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Management of Unsolicited Mail at Christmas

Defence written statement – made on 15th September 2011.

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Photo of Andrew Robathan Andrew Robathan The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence

I wish to inform the House about the annual unsolicited mail campaign the Ministry of Defence (MOD) will be running in the lead-up to Christmas, which is 100 days from tomorrow.

This Government are dedicated to the care and welfare of the men and women of our armed forces, particularly those deployed on operations. This is reflected in the comprehensive Deployed Welfare Package which is constantly reviewed to ensure we give appropriate support to our deployed service personnel. A key part of that package is ensuring the safe and timely delivery of free personal mail from family and friends. In the past this mechanism has also been used by the general public to show their support by sending unsolicited goodwill parcels through the mail system.

Previously, this has resulted in huge volumes of unsolicited goodwill parcels which have overwhelmed the in-theatre postal and logistic capacity, resulting in a considerable delay to personal mail from family and friends. British ForcesPost Office (BFPO) estimates it will handle approximately 22,500 parcels per week over Christmas this year (the eight-week period between mid-October and mid-December) as opposed to 10,000 over a “normal” eight-week period. In 2009, unsolicited mail added 64 tonnes to BFPO’s logistical effort. In addition to the impact on personal mail, which can be severely delayed as a result, delivering unsolicited packages over the “final mile” to forward operating bases and patrol bases puts increased pressure on essential in-theatre resources. Additional helicopter journeys and road convoys are required, both of which take essential transport assets away from their primary task and place our personnel at increased personal danger.

It is for these reasons that the MOD will, for the fourth consecutive year, be repeating its unsolicited mail campaign. The campaign was so successful last year it reduced the volume of unsolicited mail by 90%. Key to the success of the campaign is to encourage the British public to show their support through one of the recognised MOD service charities rather then sending unsolicited goodwill parcels.

All service personnel on operations over Christmas will receive a seasonal gift box from the MOD-endorsed charity, “uk4u Thanks!”. The charity continues to work closely with the MOD, using free space in the existing supply chain to deliver the boxes well before Christmas, without impacting on the normal mail system. Other charities which help to support deployed troops with welfare items include SSAFA, Afghan Heroes, Support our Soldiers and Thank the Forces.

I recognise that it might seem counter-intuitive to ask the British public not to send parcels to troops at Christmas, but due to the impact of unsolicited mail I ask for your full support in directing the public towards MOD-recognised charities.