Outrage against government’s ‘pensions ploy’

By Alex Stevenson

The release of a letter warning Royal Mail’s pensions deficit is worse than previously thought has been attacked as a piece of political propaganda by union leaders.

According to a letter from pension scheme trustee chair Jane Newell obtained by BBC News yesterday evening the Royal Mail’s deficit is well over the £5.9 billion figure named in December’s Hooper review.

At a rally opposing the government’s plans to push the part-privatisation through parliament in Westminster, union representatives were on the offensive against the proposals.

Dave Ward, deputy general secretary (postal) for the Communication Workers Union (CWU), told the rally releasing the pensions information was a “threatening” and “bullying tactic”.

“We were used to the Tories doing this sort of thing. but this is a Labour government. That has got to be one of the cheapest, lowest things a political party has done,” he said.

Over 120 Labour MPs have signed an early day motion indicating their opposition to the government’s plans and are expected to come under intensive pressure from whips determined to change their minds.

Billy Hayes, general secretary of the CWU, had earlier dismissed the leak as “a distraction designed to scare MPs”.

He explained: “Privatisation is not linked in any way to sorting out the pension fund. It’s not even about protecting pension benefits, it’s about making the company viable for take-over.”

Lee Barron, the CWU’s regional secretary for the Midlands, told politics.co.uk he believed the pensions “threat” was not a real one, however, pointing out whether or not Royal Mail is privatised it will keep responsibility for the deficit.

The unions received vocal support from some Labour MPs at the rally. Backbencher Katy Clark told the assembled CWU members: “I think it’s absolutely appalling the pension deficit is being trundled out today.”

She was perhaps responding to GMB general secretary Paul Kenny’s pledge to rebel Labour MPs: “You stick with us, and we’ll stick with you.”

A bill outlining the government’s proposals for Royal Mail is expected to be introduced to parliament on Thursday.