HUNDREDS of postal workers could lose their jobs and several post offices could close across Oxfordshire if private delivery firms start competing for Royal Mail business.

The warning comes from union officials and Royal Mail management, who say the move could also mean the end of six-day-a-week and next-day services, with rural households being billed on a pence-per-mile basis for their post.

They accuse new entrants, such as TNT Post, of ‘cherry picking’ by delivering only to cities and towns, leaving Royal Mail with more expensive-to-serve rural areas. But TNT denies the firm is a threat.

Officials from the Communications Workers’ Union (CWU) in Oxford claim the amount of mail handled by Royal Mail could fall by a quarter, putting up to 250 jobs across the county at risk.

CWU representative Steven Gill, based at Royal Mail’s Oxford delivery office, in Oxpens Road, said: “In London, Manchester and Liverpool the effect of competition from TNT is noticeable.

“If this was to happen in Oxford it could mean job losses here, so there is a lot of worry among postal workers.

“Once those jobs go the damage is done and it will be irreversible.”

And sub-postmaster Neil MacCormack, who runs Wheatley Post Office, says any changes will backfire on post offices like his.

He said: “It is true that rural postal workers have to cover a greater area.

“They walk up and down farm tracks up to a mile long, while in town one person could deliver 300 letters to one block of apartments in one go.

“If anything changed a large number of rural post offices, including my own, would be in jeopardy.”

Royal Mail must deliver to all 29 million homes in the UK every day except Sunday under the “universal service offer”, but private firms are free to deliver just twice or three times a week.

TNT Post operates in London, Manchester and Liverpool and aims to extend its reach to almost half of UK households, which is likely to include Oxford, by 2017.

It has also snatched lucrative business contracts with major players such as Centrica and Vision Express from Royal Mail.

Coming against a background of long-term decline in the number of letters being sent as people switch to email, there are fears the challenge from private providers could prove the last straw. Royal Mail, which was privatised last September, has called on industry regulator Ofcom to review the market.

But Nick Wells, chief executive of TNT Post, said: “TNT Post delivers less than one per cent of the mail in the UK and the regulator has repeatedly made clear that there is currently no threat to the financial stability of the universal service offer from plans from competitors to enter the UK delivery market.”

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