There is a lot of misinformation about the sell-off (a partial privatisation) which is happening today, and some confusion with Post Offices – which nowadays are a separate business and are not affected, though I shall have a brief look at them in a moment or two.
As usual, it is Labour (seemingly alone from the political parties) who are trying to manufacture a story from this that benefits them politically, but the record shows that they too were seriously looking at doing the same thing, but dithered over it (we are taling Brown era mainly rather than Blair here) so it didn't happen. It was, though, intended to happen under Labour, and it is worth keeping that in mind.
They, just as much as the current Coalition Government, were facing the hard reality of a service that was hardly needed in the electronic, on-line era, and was struggling to survive. Its parcels side was doing reasonably well, though facing stiff competition, but the standard 'letter post' side of the business – once its mainstay – was shrinking with an inevitability that all involved could see and understand.
The new model, in private hands, is realistically the only way that Royal Mail can survive, so given the choice of that or oblivion which way should any sensible government go? Are we to consign it to the bin of history? As the late Peter Cushing's character from the first Star Wars movie once said, "I think not!"
Thus we have long-awaited action to preserve this long-standing outfit, in a form that can work even in the twenty-first century – not that it's guaranteed to succeed, and indeed might not, but it's probably the only realistic option. Interestingly, the idea was first looked at in the old DTI while I was (still) working there, though not in that part. UPDATE @ 1240: Alex Massie makes the case better than I can.
As for the Post Offices: I see that Labour (again!) are taking the present government to task for branch closures. However the numbers involved under the current government are minimal, and it was during the Labour years that vastly more closures occurred. I am grateful to 'Tory Radio' for providing a table of the figures by year of this publicly-available information, reproduced below and making the point very clearly...