Death of the red post box. Fury as cost cutters axe letter collections

Thousands of traditional red post boxes face being scrapped as the crisis-hit Royal Mail tries to cut costs.

Many of those earmarked for closure are in rural communities already reeling from the loss of village post offices. Industry watchdog Postwatch vowed to fight to save the boxes after it emerged that a pilot scheme in one county may be extended to the 115,000 boxes nationwide.

Axing the national treasures could leave the elderly and isolated unable to use the postal service.

Bosses of the Royal Mail, which is losing £1.5million a day, are also seeking to raise stamp prices on top of a 1p increase in April.

In a leaked private memo to post office managers in Dorset, Royal Mail chiefs revealed plans for a pillar box removal scheme and collection changes. The county will lose 250 post boxes because, it is claimed, the area has the highest density of them in the country and not so many are needed. But a number of those earmarked for the axe are in sparsely populated areas and their removal would force villagers to trek miles to send a letter. This is the latest in a long line of disasters for Royal Mail, including being ridiculed for its aborted name change to Consignia.

Five years ago the company was making hundreds of millions of pounds a year in profit.

Now even its renowned Parcelforce division faces yearly losses of £200million.

Royal Mail is shedding 40,000 jobs – a fifth of its workforce – and closing 3,000 rural post offices, a third of the network.

An experiment to charge businesses for early deliveries flopped, with just one firm out of 36,000 agreeing to pay the £10-a-week fee.

The latest row will be a major headache for former Football Association boss Adam Crozier, who takes over as Royal Mail chief executive next month.

The leaked memo asked managers in Bournemouth, Poole, Christchurch and the rest of Dorset to review post boxes in their areas.

A Postwatch spokesman said:

"It is a crazy idea and would seriously affect the elderly and those living in isolated locations. We haven't been informed about this and there is a statutory duty on the Royal Mail to inform us of any change they plan to the level of service.

"We would be strongly opposed to any plans which would mean a reduction in the number of letter boxes."

Communication Workers' Union branch secretary Derek Clive also attacked the idea.

"This will affect people, jobs and the quality of the service we offer and we will be making strong protests against it, " he said.

"People are already expected to pay more for the service and at the same time it now looks like many will have to walk further to post their letters."

Royal Mail last night played down the plans, insisting no decision had been made. It denied there were national moves to cut back on underused boxes. "If any were removed it would only be after consultation, " said a spokeswoman. "We have been looking at collections but only at the number of times letters are collected in a day.

"It makes no sense for us to remove post boxes. We want people to post letters."

But officials in Dorset were still insisting some boxes could go. One revealed: "In some places there are letter boxes which are no more than 100 yards apart and we will be making sensible decisions about which ones to remove.

"There are a lot of post boxes which only ever have a few letters inside and it is time consuming for our staff to stop and empty them for so little."

The suggestion boxes could be scrapped is embarrassing for Royal Mail which last October, with English Heritage, unveiled plans to recognise them as a national treasure.

English Heritage said many of the boxes were Grade II listed.

Just days ago the Daily Express told how Royal Mail claimed it was about to be swamped by a potential £330million black hole in its pension funds, caused by poor stock markets performances.

It also needs a further £280million to cover possible rises in interest payments on Government loans.

Royal Mail also announced increased charges for its postcode inquiry line yesterday – from local rate to 50p a minute during office hours.

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