I congratulate Mr. Burstow on securing the debate and on his campaign. In the short time available, I shall do my best to address his points. I should declare an interest in that when I joined London Fire Brigade in 1974, I did my basic training at Sutton fire station and served my operational time mostly in south-west London, so I have some familiarity with the geography of the area.
Let me give some background on the massive operation managed by Royal Mail. As we all appreciate, Royal Mail's operations extend into every home and business throughout the United Kingdom. Its operational success is dependent on the efficient use of postal addresses, and particularly of postcodes, to which the hon. Gentleman referred. About 84 million postal items are delivered every day, and almost 1 billion parcels every year. Every house and business in the United Kingdom has been given a postal address by the Royal Mail to meet its obligation to provide a universal postal service. There are 27.5 million addresses and 1.7 million postcodes—one for every 15 UK addresses.
Every delivery point in the United Kingdom has a postal address and customers are encouraged to use Royal Mail's recommended postal address system to avoid delays. Royal Mail specifies an optimum way of addressing post to help its operations. That involves a minimum amount of information required by the company for accurate sorting and delivery. It consists of the addressee's name, the number of the house or its name, the post town and the postcode. The postcode enables small numbers of adjacent properties, and sometimes a single property, to be identified.
A postcode is used as a sorting and routing instruction, and its sole purpose in the postal context is to help to identify the most efficient route for delivering mail to individual customers. Although you and I, Mr. Deputy Speaker, may use it in a variety of other ways, the fact is that the postcode is all about getting post from A to B. That is what it was designed for in the first place, and that is what it is for. As a result, Royal Mail can report that, last year, over 94.1 per cent. of first-class mail was delivered the next day, against a target agreed with Postcomm of 93 per cent., and that 95.4 per cent. of first-class post was delivered the next day to the residents of Sutton and Cheam. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman would want to join me in congratulating Royal Mail staff on their results.
The allocation of a postcode to each district and address is linked to Royal Mail's network of sorting and delivery offices—its distribution network. Because the delivery office covering Cheam is based in Sutton, Sutton is the post town that sets local postcodes, including those covering Cheam. Sutton has always been the post town in that area, and has always been the basis of local postcodes. However, postcodes were never intended to signify a geographically definitive address by local authority or other administrative boundary. Indeed, postcodes are not a geographically accurate description of where a property is located. A postcode may, as in many cases, relate to a town where the delivery office is situated, which may be several miles away or even in a different county. The post town may even be in a different country, depending on the location of its borders.
The UK postcode system was developed by Royal Mail in the 1960s to sort mail more efficiently and to cope with population growth and increasing mail volumes. Efficiency is achieved by using the one-line postcode as a shortcut for the full postal address. Mail with a postcode can be sorted more quickly, accurately and efficiently. The alphanumeric combination used in the UK postcode structure has proved robust, resilient and easy for mail users and the public to remember.