Westminister Comment - Rival companies cherry picking...

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One of the services we value here in the North-east is that provided by our hard working posties.

The men and women who work for the Royal Mail deliver letters to virtually every address six days a week for the same price no matter how remote. They also collect from a wide network of post boxes.

This service is part of what is known as the Universal Service Obligation which Royal Mail is required to provide. The obligation is overseen by ofcom the regulator of postal services. They are legally obliged to ensure its protection.

Currently, the cost of providing the service in difficult areas is covered by the profit made in the easy areas. In the summer I tabled a motion in the Commons highlighting concern at the threat to the universal service posed by competing companies doing deliveries in only the easy areas.

I also took part in a debate highlighting the concern. This Tuesday in a follow up to the debate I hosted a meeting for MPs with the regulator Ofcom. We were able to highlight our concern about the effect of rival companies cherry picking the most profitable business. I particularly repeated a warning I had given the previous regulator, Postcom, that a failure to allow competition to grow as quickly as possible might delay some efficiencies, but could be corrected. Whereas allowing competition to grow too fast threatened the vital universal service which would be difficult to recover.

Ofcom were able to confirm they were closely monitoring the impact of competition and had a submission from Royal Mail with detailed evidence. They confirmed they could intervene quickly in the light of their enquiry. The meeting was a useful opportunity to reinforce the importance of the universal service. As a metaphor I pointed out that the offices of the old regulator that had introduced competition too quickly were now being demolished.

Another area where Ofcom have responsibility that is relevant is in the regulation of the telephone market and in particular the delivery of new connections by Openreach. I have highlighted a number of examples of very poor service in new housing developments.

It is not the fault of the hard working engineers who we see out in all weathers. It appears to be a organisational failing that has been behind many of the failures.

Ofcom recently tightened the performance standard that Openreach must achieve. I am very keen to hear from those needing a new connection about their experience so that I can ensure improvements are being achieved.

Last week there was a debate on the consequences of the referendum. I highlighted the importance of recognising the outcome was a rejection of leaving the UK. This makes it important that the proposal for further powers respect that principal and ensure that independence is not delivered by the back door against the wishes of the people of Scotland.

I also welcomed the recommitment that delivery of further powers in Scotland is not contingent on reforms of how the rest of the UK is governed.

This is important given the commitments of the three main parties supporting a no vote carried no such condition.

There will be a process for looking at decision making on issues not affecting Scotland. However for all that some solutions look easy they actually throw up very real practical problems. These problems need to be seriously considered if we are to have a stable long term solution.

Last week’s fall in unemployment was welcome news at time when some global indications are not so good. The stability brought by the creation of the coalition has helped strengthen investor confidence.

Locally the constituency currently has 0.4% unemployment. That has been driven by a period of growth especially in the oil and gas industry.