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An Post is looking at buying products in bulk to prepare for Brexit

An Post CEO David McRedmond has big plans on ID verification services, and hopes to “leapfrog the banks”.

Image: Maxwell Photography

AN POST IS looking at the possibility of buying items from suppliers and storing them in Ireland in order to deliver them to Irish customers quicker after Brexit.

CEO of An Post David McRedmond told TheJournal.ie that this was partly to do with Brexit and how it would affect supply chains. 

“Should we warehouse the top 100 lines from a retailer because there will be delays otherwise?” he suggested during an interview held before Christmas.

McRedmond said that he’s in contact with Chinese distributors to see if they can “develop” their current system in order to deliver products faster.

Should we run the warehousing? Should we do pick-and-pack warehousing? Should we fly stuff into Ireland and distribute stuff across Europe?

“We’re certainly very keen and we’re talking to a number of Chinese distributors at the moment,” he said.

He compared this idea to a British company that An Post owns: “We’ve got a company in the UK called Air Business which is probably the leader in Europe in magazine distribution. But we’ve moved that [to a place] with a big warehouse beside it, so that we can actually also manage the supply chain in the UK. So that’s the type of thing that we’re doing and looking at.” 

An Post’s profits grew from €8.4 million in 2017 to €40 million in 2018, partly due to an increase in stamp prices and a widening of the services the company offers – which now includes loans of up to €75,000.

But 2019 also brought the closure of almost 160 post offices across the country: with a significant closure of the Little Island mail centre in Cork, affecting 240 jobs.

Cork Mail Centre

McRedmond acknowledges that for some employees, the closure was particularly tough; but says for others it was “an opportunity”. For those who were offered redeployment, fewer than 40 availed of it, he says, and that most opted for retraining or education. McRedmond says that some employees have retrained and now work for Apple in Cork. 

It’s understood that one former employee of the Cork Mail Centre works for a security firm based at the Apple plant in Cork.

An Post also had to contend with the backlash from workers and the public after 157 post offices were closed last year. They focused their attention on Post Offices in areas where there were 500 people or fewer and gave the postmaster or mistress an option to close, with a retirement package.

“That has worked really well,” he says, but adds that there were a couple of communities that are “really hurting, and for them it’s been really tough”.

He explains the thinking behind the decision: “Data shows that if you close a post office, 70% of the traffic will go to the next closest one. So if you have three post offices that are nonviable, closing one could make two viable.”

“How we let people go really matters,” he says, adding that he’s “really pleased” with how closing the mail centre in Cork worked out for the 240 staff affected.

It’s been claimed that some workers at the Cork Mail Centre were put off by the offer of redeployment because of a lack of information, and that workers are not “really pleased”.

So what will happen to the site now? It had been rumoured that the site would be sold to make money for An Post – so will it be sold?

“A decision hasn’t been made yet, but it looks like we’ll be keeping the site where the Cork Mail Centre used to be – people said at the time we were selling it to make money – we’re not.”

GDPR, the banks and the future

McRedmond says that identity verification, or confirming someone’s identity on behalf of banks, government or companies; as well as GDPR and personal data services are “a natural” for the Post Office, and among the company’s plans for the New Year. 

“Everybody trust and likes the post office. The Post Office is a very benign brand. 

The Post Office sits somewhere between government, it’s not quite government, but it sits next to government. But nor is it purely commercial like bank, but it sits next to the banks.

“So that space between the commercial world and government is a space that the post office occupies that allows us to do services for anybody.”

On Brexit, McRedmond says that ”we can do anything with advanced notice”. He says that preparations have been made for an influx of parcels from non-EU countries (ie, a post-Brexit Britain).

Currently, Ireland gets around 14 million parcels a year from the UK.

Part of dealing with the challenges of Brexit – paying excise and duty, complying with new regulations – is part of upgrading the postal service, McRedmond says.

On other business fronts, the An Post CEO says that “Our Foreign Currency Cards‎ are pretty much like Revolut, and we’re pretty happy with them… Post Mobile is definitely here to stay.”

But he also has big ambitions for the “benign” brand, saying that An Post Money, a current account feature, is working well and has the opportunity to “leapfrog the banks”, which have been damaged somewhat by the economic crash and the tracker mortgage scandal.

“Where can we take An Post Money? We have an ability to leapfrog the banks because we don’t have the legacy systems that they have,” he said, adding that a team was working on developing this at the moment.

McRedmond is also pushing to make An Post a sustainable bran: already its entire fleet of vans are electric vehicles, and the company has a target to reduce its emissions by 50% by 2025.

McRedmond adds that there are other “very big projects” underway: one of which is to make all An Post buildings “self-sustaining”. Due to the transition from letters to parcels, many of these mail centres need to be dramatically altered to suit how people are using the mail service, which “gives us the opportunity to be really energy efficient”.

He concludes that “there will hardly be a building that An Post is in today that An Post will be in five years from now” – including the office he’s in now, above the GPO.

Two lines have been added to the piece in relation to the Cork Mail Centre to respond to statements made about former employees. A statement had been requested from the Communications Workers’ Union prior to publication, but none has yet been received.

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