CORPORATE PLAN (ABRIDGED VERSION): 1 APRIL 2000-2003
- Post Office Users National Council (POUNC) was set up under the Post Office Act 1969. POUNC was established to represent users’ interest in the Post Office. At the same time separate statutory Councils were established for Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales (POUCs) to look after user interests in their respective geographical areas. POUNC represents the national voice and works closely with the other Councils. The role of POUNC, and the other user representative bodies, is set out in more detail in paragraphs (15-28).
- Under the Postal Services Bill currently going though Parliament (see para 4 below) POUNC will be wound up. Its former role will be enhanced and a successor body, the Consumer Council for Postal Services (CCPS) will be established. This plan sets out what POUNC (and CCPS) intends to achieve over the period 1 April 2000 to 31 March 2003, and how it intends to do so. It rolls forward the previous Corporate Plan and reviews achievements against that Plan.
THE WIDER ENVIRONMENT
- This Corporate Plan has been drawn up at a time when the future role of POUNC is under review. The Government published a White Paper on Post Office Reform in the summer of 1999. POUNC was active in putting forward its views to DTI on how it saw its future role. The Government also published a Statutory Instrument (SI 2107) in July that set up a Regulator (the Postal Services Commission) from 1 April 2000. The SI only gives the Postal Services Commission limited powers. Initially it will largely act as advisor to the Government.
- The Government has now laid the Postal Services Bill before Parliament. That Bill will introduce reforms into the postal market including the scope for more competition; move the Post Office to a Public Limited Company with more commercial and financial freedoms; give the Postal Services Commission (the PSC) a greater range of powers to regulate the Post Office and certain elements of the postal market; and give the consumer voice a stronger, more central role. The Bill will wind up POUNC. A new Consumer Council for Postal Services will be established to represent consumers. The Bill will also include provisions to cease the funding by DTI of the local network of some 180 Post Office Advisory Committees that currently supports the work of POUNC. POUNC is now looking actively at its options for putting in place a structure that will ensure we have adequate systems to get local views.
- Under the present legislation, POUNC’s duty is broadly drawn, but ill-defined see paragraphs 15-18. In future the duties and powers of CCPS will be more clearly defined. From the White Paper, POUNC has an understanding of the likely duties and powers of CCPS as well as those of the Post Office, Government and the PSC. However CCPS’s role and hence the way it operates may yet be influenced as the legislation goes through Parliament. As presently envisaged, CCPS’s main functions will be to:
- Act as public advocate for all consumers of postal services
- Provide strategic advice to Postal Services Commission, Government etc
- Provide advice and information to consumers on postal matters
- Provide a complaints handling service to postal consumers whose complaints have not been satisfactorily handled by licensed postal operators
- Investigate complaints and seek to reduce cause of complaints with licensed postal operators
- Ensure licensed postal operators have effective complaints handling systems, and compensation and redress systems
- Monitor service quality against standards set by the Postal Services Commission
- Monitor and advise on the size and make up of the Post Office counters network and make representations on the need for access to postal provision in particular areas
- Make representations to the PSC, where appropriate, about remedial action, including the level of penalty to be imposed for a failure to meet service performance standards
In many ways, these reflect the role and activities that POUNC has been seeking to undertake but it makes it much clearer what must be achieved. It gives the opportunity to re-appraise the resources needed to ensure that CCPS becomes a more effective consumer body. The primary duty of the PSC will be to exercise its functions in a manner best calculated to promote the interests of consumers. CCPS will also be charged with representing consumers’ interests. To avoid confusion and maximise efficiency of the respective roles of CCPS and PSC, there will be an effective framework for collaboration between both parties. This will be done through a Memorandum of Understanding. The major area of work CCPS is likely to lose is primary responsibility for commenting on Post Office tariff changes. However CCPS will be consulted by the PSC on tariffs and to represent the user viewpoint.
This Corporate Plan has been based on POUNC’s current understanding of the likely measures in the forthcoming Bill. POUNC will need to keep its Corporate Plan under review to reflect the outcome of the bill. For the sake of simplicity, the rest of the document generally refers to CCPS rather than POUNC.
- In the light of functions set out in paragraph 5, CCPS considers that its main aim must be:
"To protect, promote and develop the interests of all consumers of UK postal services."
- To meet CCPS’s aim the following corporate objectives have been set:
- To have effective systems for identifying consumer needs and views on the postal services provided in the UK.
- To be an effective voice on behalf of consumers with licensed postal operators, PSC, Government, and others who take decisions or influence the postal market.
- To promote user awareness of CCPS, and provide consumers of postal services with reliable information and advice.
- To provide a good quality complaints handling service for complainants who are not satisfied with the response they received from licensed postal operators.
- To ensure CCPS is organised and managed effectively to provide value for money.
- In order to fulfil CCPS’s corporate objectives, it is important CCPS understands the environment in which postal operators function, what all users (both business and social) need from the Post Office and other licensed postal operators by way of core services; and what the Post Office and other licensed operators are doing to meet those needs. CCPS also needs to keep abreast of developments in EC and elsewhere that may affect postal services in the UK. CCPS must also keep in tune with developing thinking on consumer protection and representation. Where CCPS acts to help the user, it must do so effectively. Therefore CCPS needs to build close and harmonious relations with key players such as the Postal Services Commission, The Department of Trade and Industry, EC, Unions and leading trade and consumer organisations.
- With the expected alterations to the postal market, the Post Office, CCPS and the introduction of the PSC, it is a time of great change. During this period, CCPS must remain flexible and focus on a few of the most important issues where change is needed and is achievable. Priorities must be identified but this list should remain under review and be amended if necessary as events demand. Paragraphs 13 and 14 identify that CCPS requires additional resources to meet the objectives and the priorities identified in paragraph 12. We are in negotiations with DTI. The Plan and the required resources may be subject to revision once the Act is in place.
- CCPS sees its nine main priorities for the early part of the Corporate Plan as being:-
- To establish CCPS’s organisational structures, national, regional and local, to meet the requirements of the White Paper.
- To develop strategies to influence materially the future shape of the Post Office counters network together with the associated monitoring of the Code of Practice on Network closures and Re-locations to the benefits of users.
- To agree medium and longer term quality of service targets with licensed postal operators.
- To improve its representation of users, particularly those from the business community.
- To seek improvements to the present customer handling operations of the licensed postal operators, together with satisfactory compensation and redress systems.
- To provide a more effective complaints handling performance.
- To raise the public awareness of CCPS, and accessibility to CCPS.
- To establish good working relationships with the PSC and licensed postal operators.
- To respond pro-actively to the Post Services Bill.
- CCPS will be funded by DTI via grant in aid. In future the funds will be raised by the PSC via a licence fee. With CCPS having a more central role and more powers than POUNC, greater resources are required. CCPS cannot discharge its new role without such resources.
- The increased funding will be required to:
- Launch a more representational and properly resourced structure
- Fulfil the desire expressed in the White paper for CCPS’s work to be underpinned by a sound research capacity to monitor postal performance such as quality of service
- Raise public awareness of CCPS
- Provide sufficient staff to handle the new duties and to response to extra inquiries as the profile is raised.
- Ensure an effective complaints system from CCPS
- Ensure licensed postal operators provide an effective complaints handling system and compensation and redress regimes
- POUNC’s mandate is set out in the Post Office Act 1969 (Part II) Sections 14-15 as amended by B.T. Act 1981 (Part 1 Section 9 and Part II Section 65) and Post Office Users Council (Functions) Order 1983, and B.T. Act 1984.
- These legal requirements are:
- DTI, PO and POUCs can refer any matter relating to PO to POUNC for consideration.
- POUNC shall: consider any (non-frivolous) user representation; any PO service (as amended: see para. 3)) irrespective of whether there has been a complaint, and take it up with DTI and PO, as appropriate. If the matter relates to an area covered by POUCs we must consult them.
- To be consulted by DTI on ‘recognising’ POACs.
- The activities of POUNC, POUCs, and POACs does not apply to banking and other money services (except Postal Orders), letters above £1 (except registered inland letters). The B.T. Act 1984 set up the TAC framework, but did not give POUNC any statutory role.
- Essentially our remit covers the main PO monopoly services that are
- letter packets
- Recorded Delivery
- stamp collecting
- Delivery/Collection service
- Parcels (monopoly element)
POST OFFICE USERS NATIONAL COUNCIL
- POUNC was established to represent users’ interests in the Post Office. Its statutory duties are laid down in the Post Office Act 1969 (Part III, sections 14-15) as amended by the British Telecommunications Act 1981 (Part 1 section 9 and Part II section 65) and the Post Office Users’ Council (Functions) Order 1983 and BT Act 1984.
- The legislation confers on POUNC: a duty to consider any matter relating to Post Office services anywhere in the British Isles; either at their own discretion or because it is a matter which has been referred to them by the Secretary of State, the Post Office, one of the Post Office Users Councils (POUCs); or by or on behalf of a user. Where it considers that action needs to be taken POUNC has a statutory right to make representations to the Secretary of State and the Post Office on the matter (Post Office Act 1969, Part II, section 14(9)). Although POUNC can report its findings, it has no statutory powers to enforce them.
- POUNC also has a statutory right to prior consultation about changes to the Post Office’s main services, including proposed tariff changes (Post Office Act 1969, Part III, and section 15(1).
- In pursuance of its statutory responsibilities POUNC:
- maintains a vigorous watch on Post Office performance and undertakes independent research into user requirements and Post Office performance;
- makes constructive proposals both to the Post Office and Government in the interests of users;
- deals with complaints and representations from the public and business as a whole where users are not satisfied with the Post Office response;
- publishes reports on its activities and findings, although it has not statutory powers to enforce them.
POUNC’s main concern is with the PO services that remain within the public monopoly which are: -
- Letters and packets up to £1 in value
within UK to all addresses
- Universal delivery of parcels
- Ordinary letter service (including letter packets)
- Recorded Delivery Service
- Registered Post
Supply of Stamps|
Post Office outlets
Parcels (some aspects)
Post Office Users Councils for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland (POUCs)
- The POUCs are established under section 14 of the Post Office Act 1969 with particular responsibility to consider any matter relating to Post Office services in their respective geographical areas either at their own discretion or because it is a matter which has been referred to them by the Secretary of State, the Post Office or by or on behalf of a user. They have a statutory right to be consulted by POUNC when it is considering a matter that affects their own area exclusively.
- Each POUC is an individual designated executive NDPB with its own secretariat and is funded individually through grant-in-aid from the Department. The POUCs are not accountable to POUNC in any way. However, POUNC is the national voice for Post Office users and is responsible for developing national policy in this respect. Consequently the POUCs look to POUNC for a lead on many issues. POUNC is responsible for disseminating as much information to the POUCs as possible on national issues.
- The Chairmen of the POUCs are full members of the POUNC Council by virtue of their appointments and are entitled to attend all POUNC Council meetings.
Post Office Advisory Committees
- The Post Office Advisory Committees (POACs) are locally based committees representing the views of consumers of postal services at a local level, and can represent those views to POUNC and the country POUCs and deal with some local complaints liaising with local Post Office managers as necessary. They are not statutory bodies, however, under the Post Office Act 1969, Part II, section 145(17) such committees can be recognised by the Minister as assisting either POUNC or the POUCs to ascertain the opinions of users of Post Office services.
- POUNC is responsible for the management of the expense budget for POACs in England which currently number 138. POUNC aims to encourage best practice across POAC network and to provide information and guidance.
23 March 2000
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