Scotland politics

Alex Salmond calls for Royal Mail flotation delay until after referendum

Postman collecting letters
Image caption Mr Salmond said privatisation could have a serious impact on rural communities

Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond has called for a moratorium on the privatisation of Royal Mail until after the independence referendum.

The UK government intends to privatise the service with a flotation on the London Stock Exchange "in the coming weeks".

Royal Mail has faced upheaval with job losses and price rises in recent years.

Mr Salmond said privatisation could have a serious impact on the Scottish economy and rural communities.

The Scottish government has already said it opposes privatisation.

The people of Scotland go to the polls on Thursday, 18 September, 2014, to vote in the Scottish independence referendum.

Speaking on the BBC's Sunday Politics Scotland programme, the first minister said: "I want a moratorium on the sell off of the Royal Mail to allow the people of Scotland, when they vote next year, to come to a decision on whether that national asset should stay in public hands or be hived off as the London government intend to do at the present moment.

"I am demanding from the Prime Minister - rather than pre-judge and attempt to pre-empt the decision of the Scottish people in a year's time - a moratorium on the sell off to allow the people of Scotland to decide what we want to do with that great national asset."

Mr Salmond said "8% and more" of Royal Mail was "owned by the people of Scotland".

He added: "What right has David Cameron and George Osborne to sell off our bit of the Royal Mail before the people of Scotland have the opportunity to take assets like that into Scotland's hands and take a decision about how we want to run public assets in this country?"

Private investment

Royal Mail has insisted that private investment offers the service an "opportunity to grow".

A spokeswoman said: "We already have the largest UK delivery network and we are one of the most trusted companies in the UK. But we need to make significant investment to stay ahead of the competition.

"The government's financial position means that this investment must come from the private sector."

Secretary of State for Scotland Michael Moore accused the first minister of wanting "to create difficulty and division" in the run up to the independence referendum.

He said the UK government would not delay changes to Royal Mail.

He added: "The UK government has ended the compulsory post office closure programme that we inherited.

"We have guaranteed the Universal Service Obligation in law, meaning an equal six-day-a-week service for every part of the UK.

"And proposed changes to the Royal Mail will be designed to ensure it succeeds in a changing and ever more competitive environment."

Strike threat

Unions have threatened strike action over the privatisation.

The general secretary of the Communication Workers Union (CWU) has said that a ballot of postal workers will lead to industrial action.

Billy Hayes told the BBC's Andrew Marr Show that he was "absolutely confident" of a yes vote.

Commenting on Mr Salmond's call for a moratorium on the privatisation until after next year's referendum, a CWU spokesman added: "We welcome Alex Salmond's intervention.

"We agree with him. It's good to see him agreeing with the 70% of the public who oppose the sale."

The government last week gave formal notice to the stock exchange of plans to privatise the Royal Mail "in the coming weeks".

Royal Mail staff will get 10% of the shares. The public and institutional investors will be able to purchase the rest.

The minimum amount members of the public can buy in shares will be £750.

Free shares will be given to 150,000 UK-based Royal Mail employees, who will be able to apply for additional shares under an employee priority offer, with a minimum application of £500.

BBC business editor Robert Peston said he expected the sale to take place in November.

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