As Britons embark on their annual round of Christmas card sending, many will be wincing at the £1.25 cost of a first class stamp. But Royal Mail’s new German boss says it is a ‘bargain’ compared with Pret A Manger coffee, despite the rapidly escalating price of postage and a dramatic drop in service.
Martin Seidenberg, who took over in the summer as head of Royal Mail’s parent company, International Distributions Services, said: ‘For £1.25, shipping a letter from Plymouth to Aberdeen overnight with a 24-hour service, I personally think that’s a pretty good bargain.
‘Compare it to when you buy yourself a takeaway coffee at Pret. You pay more than £3 for it and drink it in 20 minutes then it’s gone.’
But this met with uproar from campaigners and consumer groups who said price rises had not led to better service.
Many of those who send letters and cards rather than e-cards – particularly the elderly – are unlikely to frequent Pret A Manger outlets. But they have had to grapple with soaring stamp prices over the past few years.
Sending a letter first class cost 36p 15 years ago and 70p as recently as 2019. Over the past 18 months, prices have risen three times and broke the £1 barrier in April, rising from 95p to £1.10.
This is despite delivery delays at Royal Mail, with many first-class letters not reaching their recipients the next working day.
‘Charging people £1.25 for a first-class stamp isn’t anywhere near a bargain. It’s an outrageous price hike for a service that’s noticeably deteriorated in recent years,’ said consumer expert Martyn James.
Caroline Abrahams, charity director at Age UK, said older people could be left ‘high and dry’ by the rising cost of postage, adding: ‘Many older people are not online, so post is their mainstay, both for paying bills and sending and receiving cards.’
The backlash comes as the 507-year-old institution finds itself under increasing pressure to improve deliveries, with many consumers reporting late birthday cards and even medical appointment letters.
Unapologetic: Royal Mail chief Martin Seidenberg
There is also lingering anger at the company’s bungled rollout of stamps with barcodes earlier this year when a complicated process and badly publicised awareness campaign to get people to swap old ones for new left many households stuck with useless stamps.
Others faced long delays, and in some cases received fewer stamps than they sent off to be exchanged.
Royal Mail has partially attributed rising stamp prices to its Universal Service Obligation requiring it to deliver letters six days a week. It has continuously urged regulator Ofcom and the Government to scrap Saturday deliveries. Calls for reform were reignited last week when Royal Mail plunged to a half-year loss of nearly £320 million.
A Pret A Manger spokesman replied that with the chain’s £30-a-month subscription caffeine addicts can have up to five black coffees a day for about £1 – ‘less than the price of a first-class stamp’.