Wednesday, 14 November 2018

Office and shop closure

Our office and shop are now closed.  We will be back in the office on 23rd November, and the shop will be open by the end of the month.  New stock will be available including:

- Definitives from Harry Potter PSB (set of 4)

- Signed For pair of definitives including blocks

- 2nd (May) printing of 10p, 20p and £1 definitives including blocks

- additional stock of business sheets which are currently out of stock on our system

It's possible we may also have the 1st class book of 6 (MSIL) Padlock book printed on SBP1.

2018 Christmas stamps available to direct mailers as PPIs

We've previously mentioned the use of the 2nd class and 2nd class Large Machin design, and the Alice in Wonderland stamps printed on to mailshots as Postage Paid Indicators.

Now RW has sent this picture of this year's mailings from Sainsbury's supermarket which uses the new 2nd class design on their mailshots.

Update: Thanks to RH for this one from the charity Shelter.


There will probably be other users of this design at this time of year, so I look forward to seeing what else you find.

More on Ultra-violet lamps for looking at Walsall-printed Machins.

Some startling evidence on different lamps has been provided by one of our readers, and this has been added to the original blog post here.

Tuesday, 13 November 2018

Subpostmasters v Post Office Ltd: the trial.

I mentioned the legal Bates v Post Office class action (more correctly known as Group Litigation Order or GLO) last week.  This is the case where former subpostmasters who have been sacked and/or charged and/or jailed for theft, fraud or improper accounting are claiming that the errors revealed by the Horizon computer system and audits were all due to errors within the system, and that there was no fraudulent activity. I hope some of you have had time to read Nick Wallis's reports on or his twitter feed.  

You don't have to join Twitter to read the live reporting: you can read it here, and if you enjoy courtroom drama and cross examination it is the closest you'll get to hearing it on the radio or tv!

If you don't have time to read it 'live' a summary is reported on the website, where you can also find links to the morning and afternoon twitter feeds in a better format, and there are also links to documents presented in evidence, including the witness statements and some internal Post Office documents including some in which errors within the system were acknowledged.

Even when auditors worked with subpostmasters errors occurred, and were compounded!

This is the first of three trials, and centres around the relationship between subpostmasters and POLtd. Subpostmasters (SPM) are not employees, they are 'contractors', 'agents' or franchisees.  Most of them take over an existing branch.  So far all the witnesses have alleged that they did not see the SPM contract before starting the job: Post Office QCs fight this based on the incredulity principle - it is barely credible that anybody would take on such an undertaking without seeing the contract.  Crucially POL haven't been able to produce any signed contracts from these people.  Given that the contract is 144 pages long, you would think that they would have remembered it, no matter how large the pile of papers passed about.

Another factor is that when the new SPM takes over the branch is still 'live' and serving customers.  You can really only be trained in what happens with these customers' transactions unless there are quite spells when other things can be covered.  It all seems very unsatisfactory, and reminds me of 'sitting with Nellie' which is how office jobs were learned when I left school.

The next trial will cover the Horizon system itself.  The final trial will, I think, take each individual claimant's evidence and determine who is right and who is wrong and what any liability may be.

The judge is being hard on the PO QC when he makes assertions not backed up by the evidence, but equally he is being firm with witnesses who want to make long points rather than answering the specific question.  The latest witness has interrupted the PO QC when he hasn't been allowed to complete his answer.  It has been quite entertaining reading.

Monday, 12 November 2018

Harry Potter Prestige Stamp Book and new Counter Sheets - 4 December 2018

We can now show some of the detail of the stamps in the Harry Potter PSB which will be issued on 4 December 2018.

Of most interest to readers of this blog, I suspect, is the definitive pane.  This contains two 'sets' of four Machin definitives, 1p, 20p, 50p and £1.25.  All have the MPIL and M18L source and year codes, as is to be expected.

Sorry for the slightly wonky pictures, my old microscope' joints are beginning to get loose.

The reverse of the definitive pane has printing which probably shows a floor plan of Hogwarts School of Wizadry. 


Panes 1 and 2 have 5 stamps each, a block of four and a single, with pane 1 showing the characters from the set, and pane 2 showing the vehicles and the Triwizard Cup.  They too have printing on the reverse:

Panes 4 and 5 share the stamps which are on the miniature sheet; we don't have these yet but the assumption must be that they will be bound facing each other and that they too will have printing on the reverse.   More pictures here when we get them.

The definitives are four new stamps, Norvic numbers 4001.8, 4020.8, 4050.8 and 4125.8.

We will produce first day covers - but see below.

New Counter Sheets
Also on 4 Decmber Royal Mail's philatelic service is distributing to some standing order customers the new Walsall printings of the 100g and 500g Special Delivery stamps (Norvic 2985.8 and 2986.8), and the 1st class and 1st class Large Signed For stamps (2991.8 and 2992.8).  We will be listing the latter in our shop as soon as we have supplies, for distribution after 4 December.  The Special Delivery stamps have been available for some time as they have already been sold in some Post Office branches. 


We are planning to do first day covers for all of these stamps, using Royal Mail's standard definitive  envelope.  As this is the first day of philatelic availability for the special delivery stamps, some customers may want them included, whilst others will only want the stamps that are actually newly available.  Pre-order prices are:

A.  FDC with 4 x Harry Potter PSB definitives and pair of Signed For definitives - price £9.25

B.  FDC as above but plus two Special Delivery definitives - price £28.50

If you would like to order these please email as soon as possible.  Because our office will be closed from 14 - 23 November, emails will not be acknowledged until 24/25th.  Orders must be placed by 25th November to ensure that we obtain enough stamps and covers.   A relevant Harry Potter postmark will be used.

Exceptionally, if you would like the Harry Potter stamps on a Harry Potter cover, and the others (2 or 4) on standard definitive covers please let us know.  Prices will be slightly higher due to higher costs.

Thursday, 8 November 2018

RPSL Anniversary to be marked by January stamp issue?

According to the December issue of Stamp Magazine, a member newsletter from the Royal Philatelic Society of London reports that a miniature sheet will be issued by Royal Mail in January to mark the 150th anniversary of the Society.  The MS is said to feature classic British stamps.

More news when we get it and when Royal Mail allow is to report it.  Meanwhile my fellow-blogger White Knight on Commonwealth Stamps Opinion provides more information straight from the RPSL.

Tuesday, 6 November 2018

Closure of Post Offices - reasons and problems, and trials.

How many times have we seen headlines in the local press about yet another Post Office branch closure?  In city areas it is bad enough, but at least there is public transport, and POs are closer together.  In rural areas. villages and even market towns have been left without the only way to access postal and public services.  Why does this happen?

There was once a huge network of sub-post offices in the country.  All these offices were run by individuals or families within their own premises, usually a village shop but sometimes a private house.  The sub-postmaster was paid a fixed core tier payment or salary depending on how busy the office was.

1. Branch Closure programme.
But with changes in the way people used Post Offices the network was regarded as too large and costly, and steps were taken to reduce the number of branches, whilst ensuring that nobody was too far from their nearest office.  About 2,500 branches were closed in this programme.
[Where we live there were three branches within 2 miles, and another four offices in Dereham in addition to the Crown Office.]

Following that reduction, which saw many sub-postmasters paid off, Post Office Ltd embarked on the
Network Transformation programme, which was designed to eliminate most salaries by incorporating the post office into another shop.  The shop would benefit from increased (post office) footfall, and the post office would benefit because of people in the shop for other reasons.  The shop owner would receive payment based on a range of postal, financial, and government transactions.  Post Office Ltd would save money by only paying part of the commission received from other organisations (such as Royal Mail) to the sub-postmaster.   This wasn't entirely successful as often none of the shopkeepers, garage owners, or publicans wanted to take on the post office, often supporting their fellow small-businessman instead.  In other cases the sums didn't add up.  At one village near here the consultation meeting was told that the current postal footfall would require the equivalent of 1½ full-time employees.  The prospective postmaster concluded that the income forecast by Post Office Ltd wouldn't cover the cost of those people even on minimum wage.  Now there is a once-weekly outreach service.

2. Retirement
When the subpostmaster retires and closes his shop - whether it is the village general store or just a sub-post office - Post Office Ltd generally try to find a replacement.  But in rural areas this is often the only shop in the village, so there is no alternative.  Services will then sometimes be provided by a Mobile Post Office, or an Outreach service in the village hall, or pub.  The Mobile and Outreach service is provided from the branch in a nearby (or fairly close) village.  In Pembrokeshire there are two Mobiles covering a wide area of the county and Camarthenshire; in Norfolk at least one subpostmaster provides Outreach services using his own vehicle for between 4 and 6 adjacent villages.  This service is at least once a week, but sometimes twice.  But not when the provider is on holiday!

3.  Resignation, withdrawal of premises.
A nearby market town with a population of over 7,000 was left without a post office when the owner of the commercial premises it was located in decided he need the space to expand his own business.  From the end of May to the middle of June there was no service.  Then a temporary outreach service was provided one part day a week from an office 13 miles away.  The owner was required to give such a short notice, that PO Ltd had little opportunity to find a replacement premises, and the now identified replacement may not be open before Christmas.

All these problems reduce the availability of special - and indeed definitive - stamps for local collectors; but that is not really a priority for PO Ltd because they make very little in commission from Royal Mail for the sale of stamps, whether for collectors or for postal use.

And then there is dishonesty and false accounting.
4.  A shop-keeper who was alleged to have fraudulently cashed in a customer's lottery ticket that he claimed was a non-winner, was removed as a sub-postmaster - as well as being jailed after trial, of course.  That makes a lot of sense.

5.  False Accounting.  Sometimes through ineptitude and sometimes through greed or financial problems, subpostmasters have been known to steal from the post office and attempt to cover up the theft in the hope that they can make good the shortfall before anybody notices.  That rarely happens, the culprit owns up, and the outcome is inevitable.

But since the introduction of the Horizon system there have been many False Accounting allegations that have been flatly denied, with subpostmasters claiming faults in the system, and that on their own Post Office Helpline (not the one available to customers) they have been promised that a reversing correction would appear after the end of the cut-off, and that all would be well.  In some reported cases, the problem got worse instead of better.  UK readers may well have seen BBC reports on this, or read about it in the national press or Private Eye magazine.

This has culminated in a legal case which has come to court this week.  You can follow reporting by Nick Walls on this on the Post Office Trial website. (I'll put a link in the column on the right for when this post disappears, as this trial will run for a while.)  Nick is a freelance investigative journalist who has done pieces for and often appears on The One Show, Inside Out (BBC) and ITV News, and presents Caught on Camera (Channel 5). 

Nick has been following the PO Ltd Horizon story since it started, and has recently crowd-funded to ensure that he can faithfully cover and report on this story in a way that no other journalist will. The background to his involvement is here.  (The Horizon story timeline from 2007 is here.)

It's going to be a fascinating period for anybody interested in the postal network, and in justice. So far over £10 million has been spent on legal fees.  The result is impossible to predict, however much sympathy one has with the individuals concerned.

Monday, 5 November 2018

Christmas won't be early for some RM customers

A friend who has a standing order with Royal Mail Tallents House hasn't yet received his Christmas stamps, which should have been delivered on Thursday 1st November.

On phoning the call centre at Doxford* he was told that they (ie Edinburgh) were likely very busy with Harry Potter stamps, but that he ought to get his Christmas stamps by the end of this week.  Just as well the special handstamp centres are overloaded with work, if anybody yet to receive their stamps was going to do first day covers.   Shouldn't you expect to get stamps on the day of issue?

* If you're not exactly sure where this is, it seems to be a business park in the outskirts of Sunderland.  Not, as Google throws up first, a wooded area half way between Bamburgh and Alnwick, in Northumberland.

Embargoes and early releases - Charles 70th MS is the latest

Not so much an embargo breach, but certainly the possibility for early release.

One of our readers sent this picture with the comment below:

so it is hidden until
they allow it, ie less than 24 hours later

"I saw this [Prince Charles Presentation Pack in a Post Office branch] the other day from a distance but today investigated. I was asked "Do you want any?" I was a bit surprised, and 2 packs were produced.  Only problem was that item not on the system to sell.  No instructions to PO about sale dates.  I was told that as nobody had bought any he was going to send them back to stores on Monday!"  (My emphasis - IB)

Crazy, isn't it.  Royal Mail has no proper philatelic outlets in their retail partners' network, and those retail partners have no idea when - or more particularly when not - to put new stamp issues on sale, and take them off again.

Friday, 2 November 2018

Movember starts new month of slogan postmarks

After a dry-patch as far as slogans are concerned in recent months, November kicks off right away with the men's health campaign, Movember.

The first example is from Sheffield Mail Centre on 01/11/2018.


UPDATE 6 November.
Thanks to MB for sending two examples, one from Medway MC on 2 November is the illustrated version, and one from North West Midlands on 3 November which shows better than the one we received.   The illustrated version has a different slogan:



UPDATE 7 NOVEMBER.  Royal Mail has advertised it's Armistice slogan on social media.  I'll post copies of actual slogans when we get them.

UPDATE 9 November.  We got two different copies of the Armistice slogan today, one from Peterborough Mail Centre 7 November, and one from Chester 8 November.

Lest we forget

UPDATE 14 November.  Royal Mail has marked the 70th birthday of HRH the Prince of Wales not only with a miniature sheet of 6 stamps but with this slogan.  Hopefully it continued today and collectors could try to get first day covers with this machine slogan.

Happy 70th Birthday to
HRH The Prince of Wales
14th November 2018

I look forward to receiving your reports of other layouts, and other slogans, which will be reported here.