In my world, a successful Royal Mail would not aim to allow the business to grow, or to right-size, downsize, or reduce in anyway, but to sustain itself and ensure that capacity in the supply chain can be met. There is tremendous potential in Royal Mail as a service provider the country can be proud of. I've never understood the need to break up, dissolve through legislation and 'competitive' practices (that generally favour foreign competition and not innovation or sustainability).
Where are Royal Mail now?
Royal Mail Group (RMG) are in a strange and difficult place at the moment. Conservatives wanting to see it sold off, New Labour keen to break it up and yet the logical conclusion of the market place (should it be totally 'free') would result in the ultimate domination of RMG within it's sector. It is the only supplier able to sustainable meet the local delivery need, the only supplier with the capability to distribute large volumes of small mail items and is in the right place to offer up it's spare capacity for sale in the market place, and the only retail counter for government.
What could Royal Mail Group do?
If we were to use Van Weele and Rozemeijer's (1996) definition of procurement as including "all activities required in order to obtain the product from the supplier and get it to the place where it is actually used. It encompasses the purchasing function, store, traffic and transportation, incoming inspection, and quality control and assurance." then we could envisage RMG as a facilitator of not just distribution and delivery, but funcation, storage. RMG have the advantage of not having a direct environmental or disposal problem on their hands – this problem should be borne by the manufacturers, suppliers and consumers.
On the whole RMG's whole supply chain works around the distribution of physical things between people and businesses. Recently they have extended this model to include 'services' such as banking and telephony, but these are short sighted money grabbing tasks and loose sight of their main advantages in the market place – their people and their distribution network.
In some ways I like the simplicity of Ellram (1990) who suggested that supply chain management is philosophy used to manage the total flow through a distribution channel from the supplier to the ultimate user. This as far as I am concerned should be RMG's core responsibility and they should freely be able to work in this space (even if competition is reduced).
RMG have a trump card up their sleeves though that should never be over looked: key social value. How ever you think of yourself: people, citizens, commuters, tourists; you will know and see a postal worker. I could imagine situations where some at home during the day may only see or speak to a postal worker. Others will interact at PO shop counters or when receiving/collecting parcels and packages. These postal workers are a human and real supply chain link between the users/manufacturers and the consumers – this is something that has over time become essential part of governance – the face of the benefits system, center for government forms, a social venue for similar people and often the heart of a community.
Michael Quayle's (2006) description of supply chain interests me: "…there is a supply chain of events to be managed—the art, perhaps, is recognising that there is one and recognising where it can be influenced, in one form or another." He discussed the thought of a sustainable supply chain.
He goes on "What is sustainable development and a sustainable supply chain, and, indeed, why bother? It is no secret that development has often been at the expense of the environment, both at home and abroad. We are feeling the effects internationally, as global warming affects our weather patterns, and locally, as once-common species of plants and animals become rare. Development has had social costs, too. Once-lively towns and villages are in decline, and whole communities find themselves excluded from the benefits of economic growth. Sustainable development is about striking a better, more creative balance between economic development, environmental protection, and social change; about finding ways of meeting our needs without jeopardising the ability of our children to meet theirs. Development that is more balanced should be more enduring and offer a better chance of long-term prosperity."
So if Quayle, Ellram's view is taken the supply chain has extended beyond the physical parcel boundaries. By enabling 'competition' the UK government has put RMG under aggressive pressure to 'modernise' and to become 'more competitive'. It has not thought that this system of distribution is one of it's biggest and brightest assets.
What should we do?
I think that the use of 'competition' to boost the uptake of foreign companies has overlooked an essential national asset. An asset that should not be sold off. An asset that should be allowed to exploit it's niche to give the best possible service to it's customers, our community and our country.
With this free hand for Royal Mail Group there must be a change in philosophy in their management – it would not to given away lightly to capitalists looking for a fast buck; but to a new breed of managers who consider CSR as equal to 'profit' in their sustainable business model.