Trade and industry secretary Patricia Hewitt told the House of Commons on Thursday that Neville Bain, the chairman of the former Post Office – now renamed Consignia – would be stepping down in December at the expiration of his contract. She assured the House that the part-time post would be open “to all comers”.

The news of Bain’s departure surprised few given the dismal fiscal and operational performance of the state-owned postal service of late [WAMN: 27-Nov-01], although many eyebrows were raised as it was generally expected he would remain in situ beyond the contract period until his successor was found.

Cynics inside and outside Parliament believe that the timing of the Bain announcement means that a successor has already been found – even though the £94,000 a year job has yet to be publicly advertised in accordance with protocol.

It is known that prime minister Blair had personally offered the role to former Asda boss Allan Leighton who resisted the temptation. Instead Leighton agreed to accept a non-executive role on Consignia’s board with a brief to invigorate the group’s retail operations.

Hewitt was in full schoolmarm mode, opining to Parliament that Consignia’s performance was “simply not good enough”. She said she accepted that the group’s current loss of £281 million pointed to “deep-seated [internal] problems”.

“I do expect the management and the unions who have been asking for years for greater commercial freedom now to work together to use the commercial freedom that we have given them to deliver a better service to customers,” Hewitt told the House.

Consignia has recently launched a massive cost-cutting campaign designed to trim £1.2 billion from outgoings and re-enter the black.

News source: The Times (London)