Controversial plans to privatise the Royal Mail have come under fresh attack after subpostmasters were urged to refuse to stock information on how the public can buy shares.
The National Federation of SubPostmasters attacked an approach by the Post Office to ask its members to promote the sale.
The normally moderate federation said the Post Office was set to contact several thousand post offices in coming days requesting they stock materials on how to buy Royal Mail shares.
The federation urged its members to reject the call, pointing out that a privatised Royal Mail could be “catastrophic” for the post office network.
The NFSP has joined other groups in calling for a halt to the privatisation, warning that the Government has failed to deliver a secure future for the UK’s post offices.
A third of all income earned by subpostmasters comes from sales of Royal Mail products and the NFSP predicts “mass” post office closures if that income is jeopardised.
NFSP general secretary George Thomson said: “I am surprised and angered by POL’s request for subpostmasters to act against their own interests by encouraging the public to back the sale by buying shares.
“Subpostmasters are acutely aware that ministers are taking a reckless gamble with the future of our post offices by selling off Royal Mail.
“The Government has completely failed to fulfil its pledge to make post offices the ‘front office for government’, offering face-to-face access to a wide range of central and local government services. Instead, the reality is that subpostmasters are now earning less from government services than they were three years ago, and as a result are more dependent than ever on income from Royal Mail services.
“That is why we have called on our members to reject this request, and not to touch the promotion of this privatisation with a barge pole.” The Communication Workers Union is threatening to hold a strike ballot at the Royal Mail unless a deal is reached soon on pay, pensions and other issues linked to privatisation.
A ballot will be held before the end of September if the union decides to press ahead.
A Business Department spokesman said: “As part of a Royal Mail share sale, members of the public will be able to apply for shares in a number of ways, including through stockbrokers and direct from the Government.
“We are in preliminary discussions with Post Office Ltd about making printed material for the share sale available to the public through some post offices.
“The Government is fully committed to modernising the Post Office network and to safeguarding its future.” A Royal Mail spokesman said it “aims to combine the best of the public and private sectors” and access to the capital markets “will allow us to be more nimble to seize the opportunities available to us”.
Royal Mail said its senior executives’ pension plan had a “significant” deficit and the company was legally obliged to make payments into it.
It was reported yesterday that Royal Mail set aside £90m for the scheme while it was asking other employees to accept reduced benefits.
Pensions is one of the issues which could trigger a strike ballot among more than 115,000 CWU members soon.