Parcel Costs for Operational Deployments - E-Petition

Recent petition asking the Prime Minister to "Waive postal charges for parcels up 2kg's to our troops in Iraq and Afghanistan."

This is the snivelling spun reply:

The Government remains committed to providing the highest level of welfare support to our Service personnel on operations overseas, with the operational welfare budget for Financial Year 2006/2007 standing at some £42 million. Additional funding will be made available this year.

The Ministry of Defence has never charged to carry postal Packets up to 2kgs through the British Forces Post Office system to personnel serving on operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. The cost that is payable is that charged by Royal Mail Group (made up of Parcelforce and Royal Mail) to carry the post from local post offices to the British Forces Post Office Depot at Mill Hill, London.

The most suitable and cost-effective product for the British Forces Post Office to use is the Royal Mail Packet product for Iraq and Afghanistan, since, for operational reasons, only an airmail Packet service (maximum weight of 2kgs) can be provided. This currently costs £6.50 for a 2kg packet, the same as it would cost to send a First Class Packet within the UK, and which represents only 32% of the Royal Mail airmail rate for Iraq and Afghanistan of £20.72. For all other overseas personnel the Parcelforce surface mail product is available, which is charged at the UK inland rate for Parcels (currently £5.31 for 2kgs). Royal Mail does operate an airmail Parcel service, but it is presently not suitable for Iraq and Afghanistan as the permissible weight and volume of a Parcel exceeds 2kg and 0.13 cubic metres. This would result in fewer mail items being carried and the creation of a backlog as aircraft tend to fill up before their weight capacity is reached.

Although Parcelforce and Royal Mail are both subsidiaries of Royal Mail Group their products are sold separately and are not interchangeable. The prices charged by Royal Mail Group and the structure of their products are commercial decisions for that organisation. The British Forces Post Office remains in close contact with Royal Mail Group to ensure that the best service possible is available for our Service personnel.

A scheme whereby the Government paid Royal Mail Group's charges was introduced on 17 April 2003, as a temporary measure unique to Iraq, at a time when Service personnel did not have access to the welfare facilities that are now available in theatre. When the provision of goods and services for our Service personnel in Iraq reached the required standard, the decision was taken to end the scheme on 8 April 2004. It was later re-introduced for a period of one month before Christmas 2004, and subsequently confirmed by the then Secretary of State for Defence, prior to Christmas 2005, that the Government payment of Royal Mail Group charges in the pre-Christmas period was to become a standard element of the Operational Welfare Package. The centrally funded posting dates for Christmas 2006 were 10 November to 8 December inclusive, for which Royal Mail Group charged the Government £577,000; this sum does not include the costs for additional air transport and onward distribution that were also paid for by the Government.

It is important that the services provided by the British Forces Post Office to Service personnel on operations overseas are viewed in the context of their part in the wider Ministry of Defence Operational Welfare Package. This is an extensive and integrated programme of welfare provision that includes:

Welfare telephones, including satellite telephones in forward locations (30 minutes free calls per person per week to anywhere in the world).
Unlimited free Forces Aerogramme letter post, Electronic Aerogrammes (where available) and a subsidised postal packet service (fully funded at Christmas).
Free e-mail & internet access, including TEXTLINK e-mail and SMS text messaging in forward locations.
Provision of TVs, radios, DVD players and gaming machines.
Provision of DVDs and video games.
A Combined Services Entertainment live show and a celebrity visit every 6 months.
Newspapers, magazines, books and board games.
Fitness equipment.
Rest and Recuperation (R&R), (up to 14 days for a six month deployment).
Provision of showers and a laundry.
Shop facilities provided by the Expeditionary Forces Institute or the Naval Canteen Service.
Financial assistance for home unit welfare provision such as advice centres and internet access.
Concessionary travel allowances for families to enable them to keep in touch with immediate relatives.
Post Operational Leave (20 working days for a six month deployment).
A number of studies have been made into extending the Government payment of Royal Mail Group charges to become a permanent feature for all operational theatres where UK Service personnel are deployed. It has been calculated, however, that this would cost some £5 million per year dependent on uptake and in order to fund it, savings would have to be made in more essential elements of the Operational Welfare Package - such as free phone calls and Internet access. The option was again examined in September 2006 as part of the review of operational welfare and allowances, as a result of which an additional £60 million was made available for the new Operational Allowance (worth £2,240 per person, tax free, for a tour of six months). During the review of welfare provision, personnel on operations were asked in which areas they wanted improvements to be made. The response was overwhelmingly for better welfare telephone and internet provision, and not for an extension of Government funding for the postal packet service. The Government therefore announced on 10 October that the welfare telephone allowance would increase from 20 to 30 minutes, and that improvements would be made to internet connectivity. These improvements cost £2.8 million per year. A programme of further improvements to electronic communications is also about to start which will see a significant increase in the number of telephones and internet terminals available to deployed UK personnel. The cost of this has yet to finalised but will be in the region of an additional £1.6 million per year.

If a significant element of operational welfare service delivery was to fail, or could not be implemented for geographic, logistic or operational reasons, the deficiency would be offset through increased provision of other elements of operational welfare. This is what occurred in Iraq between April 2003 and April 2004. However, it is currently the assessment of the Government and commanders from the Permanent Joint Headquarters and the Royal Navy, Army and Royal Air Force that a fully funded postal packet scheme is not a priority given the competing demands of military operations and the ongoing level of operational welfare provision in the round. Nonetheless, we continue to monitor the situation closely.
Whoever drafted that makes my blood boil!

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