Mail Users’ Association was formed in a climate of industrial unrest, when the Monopolies Commission was investigating the Post Office, and at a time when there were frequent, significant increases in postal prices and quality of service was deteriorating.
In its formative years, MUA established itself as a leading representative organisation of business users, gaining the respect of both the Post Office and Government as a body of professional mail users committed to improving Postal Services in the UK. Accordingly, MUA gave evidence to both the Monopolies Commission and the Government’s Review Committees, and had some 50 of its recommendations accepted. As a result, the Association succeeded in delaying and eventually reducing annual tariff increases and successfully lobbied to limit the postal monopoly (Telecoms Act)
During the period 1975-1980, MUA published regular MUA quality of service monitors to highlight deteriorating service standards, and was a driving force behind Royal Mail Letters introducing an ‘end-to-end’ quality of service measurement system. MUA also played a significant role in the development of Royal Mail’s Mailsort services, and had a series of meeting with the DTI to formulate future development strategy for the postal sector. The Association gained widespread acclaim for its comprehensive report ‘Deliver us from the Post Office’, which was subsequently used as a reference document by key stakeholders in debate surrounding the privatisation and liberalisation of UK postal services.
In 1989, MUA submitted evidence to the House of Commons Trade and Industry Committee on the Post Office, and issued an up-dated version of its ‘Deliver us from the Post Office’ report entitled ‘Improving Postal Services’. The Association also undertook to develop an improved working relationship with Royal Mail providing it with a facility to input at the highest level with wide ranging ideas as to the future of postal services. As part of this new era of cooperation, Royal Mail undertook to replace its old quality of service monitoring system with MUA’s new proposed “End-to-End” measurement format - the new system confirming that the actual time taken from collection to final delivery was up to 20% worse than shown by Royal Mail’s old measurement system.
Over the next few years, MUA developed a constructive relationship with Royal Mail, holding a series of meetings with Royal Mail management in Oxford to discuss the future working relationship between customer and supplier. As a result, MUA’s status as a customer representative body was formerly recognised by the Post Office in 1990.
Throughout 1990, MUA co-ordinated and managed industry demands for the urgent re-structuring of the defunct Post Office Users’ National Council (POUNC) Postal Forum, and went on to play a key role in the formation of the new Postal Business Partnership (PBP), obtaining permanent representation on the main PBP Steering Committee, and providing permanent delegates for each of the seven PBP Task Forces.
In the same year, MUA founded the “Joint Industry Committee on Royal Mail” (JICROM) to provide a means of informal liaison between industry bodies on matters of mutual interest in the postal sphere. MUA’s Inland Committee also commenced a programme of inviting senior Royal Mail managers to address Inland Committee meetings and give presentations on current and future developments - including RML mechanisation plans, measurement systems, Response Services, Mailsort development and postal accounting systems.
In 1991, MUA’s Chairman was invited to chair the special working party set up by Royal Mail to examine proposals to levy a 5p surcharge on oversized envelopes (large flats), representation that successfully persuaded RML to postpone the levy at that point in time. MUA also responded in detail on both the 1991 proposed tariff increases and the Government’s announcement of the Citizen’s Charter, and received an advance draft of the EC’s proposals for the Harmonisation of the European Postal Services.
Throughout 1991, MUA worked alongside Royal Mail in developing further its “end-to-end” measurement system to enable it to produce results by 63 regions, with separate results for “long distance” mail, mail “posted and delivered in the same region”, and mail “delivered to a neighbouring region”. The results of this work confirmed MUA’s long held assertion that service varied considerably between different regions of the UK.
In the same year, MUA also held meetings with DTI representatives to discuss:
- The Citizen’s Charter proposals for greater accountability by the Post Office, prior to submitting its formal response;
- The EC Commission’s Green Paper proposals for European Postal Harmonisation;
- The need to permit “Downstream Access” as soon as possible;
- Government’s proposals to privatise Royal Mail Parcelforce;
- And the “Heseltine Review” of the Post Office and potential privatisation of the organisation.
MUA members also assisted Royal Mail in the construction of a Mailsort “matrix” of prices (Menu Pricing), and submitted evidence to POUNC on the Government’s review of Post Office compensation schemes. MUA delegations also provided evidence at two seminars held in Brussels to discuss the EC’s Green Paper proposals, and submitted a detailed response to the European Commission and the DTI on the “Single Market for Postal Services”.
In 1992, MUA played a major role at meetings with both UK and European trade bodies to examine and assess the implications of the European Commission's proposals for the introduction of competition in the postal sector. The Association was the first to urge the European Commission to set a time limit on the transition from monopoly to free competition in postal services. Whilst accepting that some segments of mail would need to be reserved in the short term, MUA urged both the EC and the UK Government to allow the monopoly to "wither on the vine" within 5 years. MUA also acted swiftly to counter the negative response of the European Parliament to the EC's liberalisation proposals, and issued press releases warning of the danger of watering down the move towards the creation of a more commercial postal business.
Also in 1992, MUA organised and co-ordinated a submission to the EC President and Senior Commissioners signed by all the major UK trade bodies, urging the Commission to re-prioritise its efforts and not to be influenced by the negative vote of MEP's. At the same time, MUA’s Inland Committee dissected each of the proposals in the Green Paper, examining the impact on postal authorities and the impact of competition on business users, and simultaneously liased with the DTI on the implications of privatisation of both Parcelforce and Royal Mail Letters, and how these objectives meshed with the greater European plan for postal reform.
In 1993, MUA invited senior Royal Mail managers to attend Inland Committee meetings to debate the impact of both EC and UK Government proposals for the postal service, and commenced plans to conduct regular International quality of service surveys as a background to the EC’s liberalisation proposals. In response to EC comment on the need for greater user representation in Europe, MUA also examined plans to create links with other non-aligned user bodies throughout the Community to ensure that users' views continue to influence the ongoing development of postal reform.
In 1994, MUA responded to the EC’s proposal for a Regulatory Framework for Postal Reform, detailing major areas of concern and urging the Commission to re-base the proposals to allow business users the freedom to select whatever method of conveyance they wished, irrespective of content, and to legislate to ensure that a postal method of conveyance was available to all at an affordable cost.
In the same year, MUA started an internal consultative process in response to the Government's Green Paper on 'The Future of Postal Services’ that included:
- circulation of questionnaires to members to ascertain their views on privatisation and commercial freedom;
- a private members conference titled 'Government Plans for the Future of Royal Mail' which gave members the opportunity to debate the issues involved with the two guest speakers: Mr Bill Cockburn, Chief Executive of the Post Office, and Mr Alan Johnson, General Secretary of the Union of Communication Workers.
This activity culminated in a formal response to the Green Paper calling upon the Government to set up a task force to properly define the Universal Service and the necessary Reserved (monopoly) Area to support it. MUA suggested a running order for reform to be:
- the introduction of the Citizen's Charter proposals (1994);
- removal of constraints upon the Post Office in terms of fiscal policy in order that it may properly respond to market conditions and user needs (1994);
- appointment of an independent Regulator and determination of the extent of its regulatory powers (1995);
- determination of the extent of the Universal Service and the means to finance it (1995);
- removal of all constraints on competition other than those determined necessary to finance the Universal Service (1996);
- implementation of EC Directives where necessary (1997).
Interviews on national and regional radio reinforced the MUA’s stance, and all 'on the fence' MP’s were lobbied to put forward the case for commercial freedom. In the meantime, MUA continued 'behind the scenes' talks with the DTI, CWU, Opposition MP’s, trade associations and interested parties.
In 1995, MUA joined forces with Periodical Publishers Association, Direct Marketing Association and Mail Order Traders Association to fight against postal price hikes brought about by increases in Treasury dividends (aka the External Finance Limit). A ‘Say no to price increases’ campaign poster was subsequently held up in the House of Commons by John Prescott as an example of public feeling toward “the tax on Post”. As part of this initiative, MUA met with: Phillip Oppenheim MP to discuss circumstances surrounding increases in EFL’s; Kim Howells MP to discuss the issue of privatisation of the Post Office; and Richard Caborn MP to discuss how Labour saw the future of the Post Office should they come to power. MUA also submitted evidence to the House of Lords European Communities Committee (Sub Committee B Postal Services), regarding the future of European postal affairs.