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Allan Leighton, chairman, Consignia
Allan Leighton, chairman, Consignia
Billy Hayes, Communications Workers Union
Billy Hayes, Communications Workers Union
BBC BREAKFAST WITH FROST INTERVIEW: ALLAN LEIGHTON, Chairman Consignia and BILLY HAYES, Communications Workers Union MAY 5th, 2002

Please note "BBC Breakfast with Frost" must be credited if any part of this transcript is used

DAVID FROST: Now every single household across the United Kingdom is serviced by one particular company and on any given day that company processes over 80 billion items for us. That's right, it's the mail - only now the people that run the Royal Mail, and the Post Office, are called Consignia and what was once a highly profitable company with an enviable reputation is in dire straits. Can the new chairman turn their fortunes around? And will the unions let him, let him make the changes that he wants to? Consignia's boss Allan Leighton is here and the Communications Workers Union General Secretary, Billy Hayes, is here too. Welcome. Welcome to you.

ALLAN LEIGHTON: Good morning.

BILLY HAYES: Good morning.

DAVID FROST: Do you both regard that the agreement you reached that put off the 24 hour strike this week, do you both regard that as a short term fillip or a long term solution? Billy?

BILLY HAYES: I think it's obviously a foundation stone to try and get the Post Office to turn around in order to improve the service to the public and it's welcome that we've got an agreement because if we'd have had a strike it would have been a disaster, not just for the customers but also for the work force.

DAVID FROST: What do you feel Allan?

ALLAN LEIGHTON: No I agree, I mean I think it's, I mean I'm very enthused by it really, I mean it's one of those things it would have been awful if it happened, I mean Billy and his team were saying it's a, it's the commonsense solution and that's where we've got to be, you know, we've not had a lot of commonsense in the last few years and I think, you know, we should be enthused by that. But also the relationship, the IR relationship of the last six months, despite what everybody says since Tom Sawyer became involved, I think it's been very good. So it's a platform and I know we both feel that this is a platform we should build on.

DAVID FROST: And, you're mentioning there the Consignia point, that re-branding was obviously a disaster and it's a terrible name - are you going to get rid of?

ALLAN LEIGHTON: Yes, I think eventually I think that's the case. I mean I think it's unfortunate because it was a piece of re-branding which just happens to be synonymous with the business underperforming so there's not really a commercial reason to do it but there's a sort of credibility reason to do it and it's not top of our list of priorities today but at some stage I'm pretty sure you'll see a name change.

DAVID FROST: So there'll be a name change, Consignia will go within two years?

ALLAN LEIGHTON: Probably in a shorter time frame than that.

DAVID FROST: Shorter than that, right. Good news for everybody who wants the name changed - get back to the good old name - you won't have another new name, you'll go back to the good old names.

ALLAN LEIGHTON: We've got three very, very good names to choose from and as you say those names have been around a long time, everybody knows them and everybody has sort of warm affection for them.

DAVID FROST: What do you feel Billy about the fact that we had the situation that this company, as we were saying earlier on, that was so profitable and isn't now and has got to be turned around and so on, are you fearful of this situation in terms of redundancies?

BILLY HAYES: Obviously that's a great concern to us in terms of any of our members losing their jobs, particularly if they were compulsory - we'd resist that. But the real issue in the Post Office is one of investment. You know, we've got the lowest postal charges in Europe, apart from Spain, and we're simply not being paid enough in terms of the service that we provide to the public. We done a recent poll that showed that 79 per cent of the British public would welcome - would want a price rise in order to save the Post Office, so it's a question of investment in the industry that we see as the main issue.

DAVID FROST: And what about the figure on redundancies - you're man, Mr John Roberts, talked about 30,000 redundancies at one stage - is that correct?

ALLAN LEIGHTON: Well I think it's indicative, I think that, you know, John came up with a number but I think if we sort of work towards that number that's realistic. I mean we've got, unfortunately, you know, we've got a lot of changes to take in this organisation and one of the things we've got to do, Billy says we've got to invest in, but we've also got to take some cost out. You know, there's been a series of things that have, that have gone wrong. I mean, firstly, you know, the management has to hold its hand up, it made some mistakes. And it can't walk away from that and clearly that's had an impact. The investment point that Billy makes is, is a big one - it's not that we've been necessarily short of investment, we've not used the money wisely but on lots of instances the investment hasn't been what it should have been. But also that's why I'm sort of enthused by what's happened in the last week in terms of the IR front because this is a business that's been too internally faced. I mean it's been infighting when it should have been looking after its people and its customers.

DAVID FROST: And does John Roberts have your total confidence to continue as chief executive?

ALLAN LEIGHTON: Well John is the chief executive of the business, he's been for a period of time and, you know, there's been a lot of speculation, as there always is about leadership in these situations, and, you know, you wouldn't expect me to comment - and I wouldn't comment, you know, positively or negatively on anybody. I think individuals and how individuals feel, that's -

DAVID FROST: Which will last longer, John Edwards or the name Consignia?

ALLAN LEIGHTON: (LAUGHS) There is a wider point though, which is this whole thing about leadership, which is, you know, you can't get away from the fact that, you know, leadership has a big impact on the company. And it's worth saying, in the broader context, I had 150 top managers together about a week ago and said to them that, you know, I expect some change and the probability is a third of them wouldn't be around in a year's time and that's going to be a fact.

DAVID FROST: And what do you think they should do to turn things around, Billy? Briefly, I mean do you - the idea of getting rid of the second post delivery does not appeal to you, does it?

BILLY HAYES: No. We think there needs to be delivery restructuring. We're the only country in the world has two deliveries a day. What we'd like to see is an expansion of the service in some areas - for example London doesn't have a same day courier service, so we're up for change. That change has got to be negotiated through the union but the issue of the price rise and investment is a key issue for us, that's really where the fundamental of the problem are in the industry. The IR, as Allan said, particularly with the deal this week on pay, we've had seven months of good industrial relations and we really need to look at the financial structure of the industry, investment and a price rise.

DAVID FROST: And how many post offices are going to close?

ALLAN LEIGHTON: Well we don't know yet, I mean, again, everybody thinks we're response, you know, we close them - we don't actually. I mean the way that it works is, you know, sub-postmasters often decide they don't want to continue, we put them up and advertise them and people don't want to do it and I think that's a bit of a reflection on the future. We'll know in the next three or four weeks, there's an exercise going through where we're asking sub-postmasters whether they want to stay in or move out, and that's the stage which we'll know.

DAVID FROST: Allan thank you very much indeed.

ALLAN LEIGHTON: Thank you David.

DAVID FROST: Billy, thank you very much indeed. Congratulations on your paternity leave.


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