Tavish Scott: Christmas would be cancelled if Santa had to pay these delivery charges

DSC_0326In recent years I have resorted to doing virtually all of my Christmas shopping online. I’ve never been a fan of trudging round the shops at the best of times, and the festive crowds bring out the worst in me.

It’s lucky that I live in the central belt of Scotland. If I were to live up north in the rural highlands or the northern or western isles, I’d be looking at ridiculous surcharges for delivery.

Shetland MSP Tavish Scott is fed up with this state of affairs and has put retailers and delivery companies on the naughty list for charging huge amounts for delivery, citing enormous variations in prices of up to £750 for delivery to Shetland. He calls for the establishment of a scheme to make these charges more realistic.

If Santa had to pay these excess costs to deliver toys north of the central belt, Christmas would have to be cancelled in the Highlands and Islands.  My constituents often have to accept a small surcharge for receiving their online shopping goods, but it’s become ridiculous.

I’ve heard of an incidence of a £6.50 delivery suddenly jumping to £106.50. The reason was ‘to make sure that people in your postcode don’t order’. A further example was a £16 TNT delivery being increased to over £750 for a Shetland resident.  I hope those responsible are firmly on the ‘naughty’ list.

Companies are either using the distance to more remote locations as an excuse to bump up their profits or are too worried about their agreements with courier companies – companies which don’t want to deliver to the Highlands and Islands anyway.  Some retailers’ websites advertise ‘Free delivery to the UK Mainland’ but actually refuse to deliver to the Highlands and Islands.  Since when was Inverness not part of the UK Mainland?  It’s a trading standards infringement.

I just cannot understand why retailers persist in making it so hard for rural shoppers to buy their Christmas gifts – why can’t they use the Royal Mail’s superb universal service or, at the very least, offer the consumer a choice of delivery options?

As more and more people shop online, it shouldn’t be hard to let customers choose.  I have put forward the idea of a logo or kite mark scheme to identify and commend companies which offer customer choice. I know that Citizen’s Advice Scotland and the Highlands Council are also looking into adopting a scheme of this type, and I’m pleased that the idea is also being taken to Westminster. It’s about time this issue was looked at and solutions found.  A kite mark scheme would give parcel purchasing customers three delivery options next Christmas; paying the Royal Mail flat-rate, using a nominated courier company or hoping the desired gifts get dropped down the chimney.

* Caron Lindsay is Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings

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7 Comments

  • Letting consumers have a choice about which carrier is used would be great. No more Yodel for starters.

  • The perpetrators need namedand shamed. They include on occasions the Scotsman which amusingly styles itself Scotland’s national newspaper but whose readers’ offers are on occasions limited to the UK mainland and the bastion of Tory unionism, the Spectator’s wine offers cannot be enjoyed in the islands and often north of Perth. The latter’s editor is I believe Scots. In passing I have often wondered whether the Isle of Wight is simarly penalised.

  • Honestly, I’d like to see a ‘duck test’ for these things. Once a courier service gets to a certain size – well, it looks like a postal service, it performs the same functions as a postal service, it competes with the postal service – so it should be required to operate on the same basis as our national postal service, including universal service obligations. Otherwise we’re creating a direct financial incentive for these companies to leave Royal Mail with only the most expensive, least profitable business as a backstop service in need of subsidy while private business takes the profit. No – let them compete on a level playing field and force the couriers to offer flat-rate delivery nationwide, cross-subsidised by the profitable urban centres as with Royal Mail.

  • Honestly, I’d like to see a ‘duck test’ for these things. Once a courier service gets to a certain size – well, it looks like a postal service, it performs the same functions as a postal service, it competes with the postal service – so it should be required to operate on the same basis as our national postal service, including universal service obligations. Otherwise we’re creating a direct financial incentive for these companies to leave Royal Mail with only the most expensive, least profitable business as a backstop service in need of subsidy while private business takes the profit. No – let them compete on a level playing field and force the couriers to offer flat-rate delivery nationwide, cross-subsidised by the profitable urban centres as with Royal Mail.

  • @Greg Webb, – given that providing a service on the same terms as Royal Mail would involve taking a massive government subsidy, primarily to push junk and internet shopping through people’s doors, I’m not sure we necessarily want to open that up to more companies. Let the junk mailers and websites pay.

    If we are naming and shaming then we can also add British Passports Office in Dusseldorf (repsonsible for UK citizens born in a wide swathe of Europe), who will only courier passports to new citizens for tens of euros instead of posting recorded delivery for a couple of euros.

  • @Richard S Subsidy? Where did I suggest state subsidy of courier firms?

    No; if they wish to offer a service that competes with Royal Mail (which I’m perfectly fine with) they should have a universal service obligation or we end up, yet again, privatising the profits and socialising the losses. Daft and wasteful.

  • Alternatively, the Royal Mail could be freed to compete on the same terms as other couriers and people who choose to live in remote areas pay for the cost of that decision?

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