01 May 1999

THE POST OFFICE aims to atone for 'seven wasted years' with the formation of an international division to spearhead its counter-attack on global rivals [how the new division will affect the role of Royal Mail International - established a decade or more ago - is unstated]. Following the PO’s recent announcement of a £1.5bn European shopping list, chief executive John Roberts. now awaits the thrice-delayed white paper outlining the Government’s commercial strategy for the publicly owned corporation. 'I shall be disappointed if the white paper is not a substantial document. We need a lot of detail on issues including borrowing, investment and regulation', says Roberts. Currently, the Royal Mail is battling for European supremacy against the Dutch, German and French postal administrations. But, argues Roberts, the threat is not confined to the boundaries of Europe: 'Post is becoming an international commodity. Big customers can transmit material for printing wherever in the world they decide is the best postal base.' He predicts the formation of global networks similar to those of the major international airlines. 'We could not stay within the UK’s boundaries and hide from the way world postal services are reshaping - even if we wanted to. Overseas competitors would simply eat away at our market and undermine the basis for maintaining the universal, single-price monopoly. We have no choice but to compete.'