Opinion: Melissa Todd -‘Public risk: private profit. It stinks.’

Waiting for delivery

Like first dates, Christmas and childbirth, everyone, it seems, has a courier horror story.   My photographer chum Ade bought a new lens recently via ebay and requested it be delivered to a shop so he could collect at his leisure.

After a few days he checked Hermes’ tracking system, which claimed it had left the depot but couldn’t be delivered because of a “security issue”. After that, it vanished. Web chat after web chat ensued, all involving promises they’d “sweep the depot” – nice earnest turn of phrase, that – and all ending with an abrupt disconnection.

Meanwhile he visited the shop, who said no one had tried to deliver anything. Hermes kept sweeping their by now squeaky clean depot and suggested Ade contact packlink.es, the Spanish company who’d booked them. They weren’t interested.

The ebay seller isn’t answering his emails. ebay will refund eventually, probably, after several more days have passed, but meanwhile Ade is lensless and not taking pictures of me, which I think we can all agree is the central tragedy of this whole sorry story.

Companies fragmented, work outsourced, no one to take the blame, shareholders to take the profit. How very modern.

Hermes and Yodel call their couriers self-employed. They’re paid by the delivery. Mate of mine worked for Yodel and got 47p a parcel, and only then if she managed to deliver it. If no one answered the door she’d wasted her time and petrol, although at 47p a parcel it’s tempting to argue she was wasting both anyway.

When someone’s time is valued so poorly, the temptation to occasionally take a parcel rather than the 47p must be overwhelming. That’s the trouble with treating humans like idiot slave drones; eventually they run out of patience and goodwill. Corners are cut, parcels slung over hedges. Who can blame them? I’m self-employed, but I’m paid well, able to put money aside in case of sickness or mishap. If I were working all hours to do a high-pressured, poorly paid, thankless job, I‘d be way more likely to get sick, and then God help me, for Yodel won’t.

Yet when Craig Mackinlay visited the Broadstairs sorting office last Christmas, and my husband, then a postman, asked how he expected Royal Mail to deliver ever greater profits to its shareholders, Craig cited Yodel as a business model to emulate. Oh, but of course: not bad enough for your lens to go awol; next it’ll be your passport or pin number. Not to worry: you can always complain to a dozen different companies on those nifty little web chats, all passing the blame and cutting you off when you bore them. Sounds idyllic.

The increase in online shopping means courier delivery services are increasingly vital.  It costs more to send parcels through Royal Mail because they pay their staff a decent hourly wage, along with sick pay, holiday pay and pensions. Their staff are carefully vetted; no one with a criminal record is employed. Yet since privatisation they are expected to increase their profits every year for shareholders. Royal Mail has been operational for more than 500 years. They can’t increase profits by growing their service, so instead they must cut. Fewer workers are expected to do vastly more work.

And so the job of postman, which has always seemed so seductively charming, fresh air and gentle strolls, petting cats, cheery chat, has become a pressurised abomination. More postmen and women are getting sick, having breakdowns, leaving to do anything else. A computer tracks their rounds now, noting how long each footstep takes. Now they’re allowed one minute to get a signature and hand over a parcel. Heaven forfend they should wait for someone less able bodied to reach the door, or stop to chat with the lonely

Aside from the horrifying human cost, when the stress breaks them it’s the public purse that must pay for their recovery. Public risk: private profit. It stinks.

We must rediscover a system that venerates humanity rather than targets.


  1. Melissa Todd you are 100%right on how it is done and if you get a parcel delivered ping up on your phone or tablet and you have not got it you don’t get hold of courier service you have to call sending company as I was told on separate occasions one was delivered next-door the other I had signed for these happened on different dates the one next door never found £165 worth of Xmas present wrapping and cards etc never found yes I got most of order but some items had been sold out then. One I signed for I by passed courier and phoned the sender and asked them to phone the company and ask why it was not with me they phoned company I and they waited while operative checked with the delivery driver it turned out that the driver only 3 doors away from me and he said it was 3 miles to our road then he had to travel 3&1/2 miles back to the next one and they have to do each parcel in strict order or they don’t get any more work they keep there contract in effect stopping them from working. I don’t blame driver for doing what he did to stop it happening again if he has another for me phone and let me know as all my parcels have my mobile number on them. It shows how easy it is to take a parcel he was OK he kept his job he told them that they had made a mistake on the delivery system as he had 5 more parcels at the end of the route within 400 yards of me and he thought that the computer had worked the route out wrong ( has to be the input person’s fault) and he said in the 5 years I’ve been working here you have never had a problem with my route. I wouldn’t blame drivers for doing it it’s why I will never get anything delivered by Amazon as I have seen what a few of there drivers have done to the parcel what is on line about them is 100%true. Thanks Melissa for posting this opinion on here.

  2. If the high street can hang on long enough there might be a revival when people get fed up with this increasing problem… hang on in there high street!

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