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British Postal Museum and Archive: The Royal Mail Archive

Regional Administration and Operations


Reference code(s): GB 0813 POST 73 Series

Held at: British Postal Museum and Archive: The Royal Mail Archive

Title: Regional Administration and Operations

Date(s): 1873-1995

Level of description: Series

Extent: 431 files, 118 volumes

Name of creator(s):

No further information available


Administrative/Biographical history:

Prior to the 1930s, the Post Office structure was based upon the central Secretariat and decision-making was extremely centralised. London as a metropolitan district was arranged by service with a Controller of London Postal Services, London Telephone Service, and the Central Telegraph Service. The Surveyor/Postmaster Surveyor was the Postmaster General's principal representative for all the services in the provinces and these were arranged geographically, not by services (e.g. postal or telecommunications). Outside of Inner London, and excluding Edinburgh, the country was divided into 22 districts for Post Office purposes. Of these 13 were under the charge of Surveyors and nine (which were the largest towns within their surrounding area) were under the charge of Postmaster Surveyors. In Scotland, Post Office organisation was under the control of a Secretary in Edinburgh, responsible to the main Secretary to the Post Office. A controller was in charge of postal and telegraphs services in Edinburgh and the surrounding area.

Throughout the nineteenth century there were concerns that there was too much concentration of administration in Post Office Headquarters and at the turn of the twentieth century there was a marked increase in volume and complexity of administrative work, which put pressure on the higher officers. The Decentralisation Committee was established in 1908, amidst a rising fear that excessive centralisation of powers was leading to inefficiency and inflexibility. It was thought that the Secretariat formed a bottle neck in the operation of the Post Office, with a resulting waste of power and loss of efficiency, as those at the centre were too caught up in the minutiae and were unable to devote time to questions of policy. The Committee's aim was to consider redistribution of responsibilities and it made several recommendations along these lines. These were not taken up, as objections, particularly those of Herbert Samuel, Postmaster General, were strong and ultimately it was decided to retain the current structure with some very minor changes.

By the early 1930s, there was renewed concern about over centralisation of administration and in 1932 Viscount Wolmer produced a report entitled: 'Post Office Reform: Its importance and practicability', speaking out against the current organisation of the Post Office. Fuelled by this, criticism began to mount and culminated in a Memorial signed by over three hundred MPs and addressed to the Prime Minister requesting the appointment of a committee to enquire into the status and organisation of the Post Office, with a view to making any changes to its constitution that were seen as necessary to improve efficiency.

As a result of this, the Post Office Organisation Committee, chaired by Lord William Bridgeman, former Home Secretary (also known as the Bridgeman Committee) was set up and reported in 1932. Its terms of reference were as follows:

'To enquire and report as to whether any changes in the constitution, status or system of organisation of the Post Office would be in the public interest'.

The main recommendation of the Committee was that the GPO, though still part of the civil service, should be run like a large public corporation with a board headed by the Postmaster General and served by a Chief Executive instead of a Secretary. In addition, as a means of decentralising Post Office control, the Committee advised the division of the Post Office into geographical divisions, each with its own Regional Board which would execute the general policy formed at Headquarters.

In line with this recommendation, the establishment of eight regions was suggested, each to be in the charge of a regional director who would be responsible for the control and coordination of all Post Office services (post, telegraph and telephone) within his territory; this role would effectively replace that of Surveyor. To aid the work of the new regional director, substantial powers were to be delegated to them - in some cases the full powers of the Postmaster General. A Regional Board would assist the Regional Director and devolved powers were to be given to Head Postmasters and Telephone Managers, who were next in the line of authority. In London, two regional organisations were to be set up to deal respectively with posts and telecommunications.

The Committee on Metropolitan and Regional Organisation, chaired by Thomas Gardiner (also known as the Gardiner Committee) was set up to implement the recommendations outlined in the Bridgeman report and immediately commenced working out plans for decentralising control.

One of their recommendations was that special committees for each Headquarters Department should examine the prospects for devolution. Reports are included within this class on the subject.

The scheme which emerged from the Gardiner Committee was based upon organisation under a Regional Director, with technical and financial guidance from the Engineer-in-Chief and the Comptroller and Accountant General, except in London where there would be separate telecommunications and postal Regions.

Implementation of complex changes began on an experimental basis in March 1936, when two regions were established (Scotland and the North East). In 1938 this experiment was deemed to be a success, and the remaining regions and telephone areas were established on a systematic plan. In 1939 the North Western region was inaugurated, and a sub-region in Northern Ireland as well as a number of telephone regions outside of the established regions. By the middle of 1940 the Home Counties, Midland, South Western and Welsh and Border Counties regions had full stature. The London Postal Region was organised in October 1936, and the London Telecommunications Region in April 1938.

The Bridgeman Committee had been anxious that communication should be maintained between all sections of the business and as part of this, regional directors were encouraged to visit one another's regions and exchange views and information. Close contact between the regions and headquarters was also encouraged with proposals for the interchange of staff.

In 1951, a report was prepared by the Working Party on Regionalisation (chaired by Lumley) on 'The present system of regionalisation in the Post Office' (GPO, October 1951). Its terms of reference were 'To examine within its existing framework the working of the regional organisation of the Post Office and to recommend any changes which appear desirable in the light of experience, with an estimate of any financial effect thereof; and in particular to report, with recommendations, on the following matters:

a) Whether existing devolved powers were being fully exercised at each level of the structure

b) Whether further devolution was practicable and desirable in present conditions

c) Whether any work now being done at Headquarters or in Headquarters Departments should be transferred elsewhere and whether any work now being done at Regions should be transferred to lower formations

d) Whether the instruments of control in operation are adequate and no more than adequate to ensure the efficiency and economy of the services.

The Working Party generally commended the prevailing situation with certain recommendations regarding the continued monitoring of the Regional set up to ensure its continued efficiency.

At this point, the Post Office was run by the Postmaster General (assisted by the Assistant PMG) as the Head of the Post Office; in addition he was the Chairman of the Post Office Board, a body consisting of principal permanent officials of the department and responsible for policy decisions. The work of the Post Office was divided into five main functions including Postal services, Telecommunications services, Engineering services, Establishments, staff and buildings, and Finance. These functions were carried down into the regional organisations which in 1951 consisted of ten territorial regions spread over Great Britain and Northern Ireland as follows; London (Postal), London (Telecommunications), Home Counties, South Western, Midland, Welsh and Border Counties, North Eastern, North Western, Scotland, and Northern Ireland. These were still under the control of the regional directors. At least two regional directors were members of the main Post Office Board. In order to ensure cooperation and sharing of information, five or six conferences a year were attended by all Regional Directors under the chairmanship of the Postmaster General. The Regional Directors also held private meetings under their own chairman. This situation was replicated at lower levels with regular conferences held of regional controllers, Chief Regional Engineers, and finance officers.

In April 1965 a proposal was put forward to split the Home Counties Region into two separate regions: the Eastern Region and South Eastern Region respectively, this proposal was approved and the action subsequently went ahead.

In 1966 the House of Commons Select Committee on the nationalised industries investigated 'devolution and control' in the Post Office.

As a result of this investigation, it was decided that further devolution would be advisable with regard to the administrative structure of the Post Office; the main focus being a split of the current Post Office Regions into separate postal and telecommunications functions. On 1 November 1966, the DEO (Director of Establishments and Organisation) delivered a memorandum at the Post Office Reorganisation Steering Group meeting on Functional split of Regions.

The official functional split of the Regions came with the passing of the Post Office Act in 1969; under the Act, the Post Office ceased to be a government department and was established as one corporation split into two divisions: Post and Telecommunications.


Scope and content/abstract:

This class consists of papers spanning the period from pre-regionalisation, when the country was separated into Districts run by District Surveyors, reporting directly to the Postmaster General, up until the early 1990s.

It includes papers on Regional surveying duties and the stretching of resources in the light of an increase in work load due to rapid expansion of the Post Office in the nineteenth century.

In addition it incorporates papers from various Committees including:

-The Decentralisation Committee, appointed to consider devolution of powers in the light of mounting criticism of centralisation of Post Office administration leading to inefficiency and an inability to concentrate on development of policy.

-The Committee of Enquiry on the Post Office (Bridgeman Committee) appointed to consider change in Post Office administration, which had various wide ranging recommendations, including that of the introduction of a Regional system with powers devolved on Regional Directors.

-The Committee on Metropolitan and Regional organisation (Gardiner Committee), appointed to carry through the recommendations of the Bridgeman Report, culminating in the creation of two experimental Regions in Scotland and the North East.

-The Working Party on Regionalisation appointed to assess the progress of Regionalisation and to recommend further innovations if necessary.

It also includes papers from the experimental Regions and various Regional Conferences, as well as papers from the individual Regions. Subjects covered by this material include papers covering the civil disturbances in Northern Ireland and papers relating to the London Postal Service and the inauguration of the London Postal Region. Also included are papers concerning the input of the London and Midlands Regions into the several reviews of efficiency of the Post Office conducted by McKinsey and Company.

There are also papers relating to the split of the Post Office into two separate divisions: Postal and Telecommunications, and how this might best be carried out across the Regional structure.

The papers incorporate a wide range of material, including annual reports, meeting minutes and papers, financial paperwork, organisational diagrams, Regional Board papers, Regional publications, reviews, strategic plans and photographs of Regional representatives.


Language/scripts of material: English

System of arrangement:

This series is arranged as follows:

-Pre-Regionalisation: covering the period before the system of Regionalisation was introduced, when the country was split into Surveyors' Districts.

-Development of Regional administration within the Post Office: including final reports and paperwork from the meetings of the various Committees appointed to consider and implement Regionalisation.

-Regional Conferences and meetings: including minutes, papers and associated paperwork from various Conferences organised to discuss Regional issues and to encourage cross-Regional relationships.

-Reports and papers from each of the Regions, including the Home Counties Region, which was subsequently replaced by two separate Regions: Eastern Region and the South Eastern Region.

-Functional split of Regions: covering the decision to separate the Post Office out into separate postal and telecommunications divisions.

Conditions governing access:

Public Record

Conditions governing reproduction:

Please contact the Archive for further information

Finding aids:

Please contact the Archive for further information


Archival history:

Immediate source of acquisition:

Please contact the Archive for further information.


Related material:

For material giving information on Regional surveying duties prior to Regionalisation see: POST 30/95A ('Certain Surveying duties delegated to Postmasters' c.1855); POST 32/36A ('Surveying system revised in Scotland' 1873-1875); POST 30/1335B ('Quasi-surveying duties delegated to Postmasters' c 1906); POST 59/181 ('First, second, third and final reports of the Committee on the relief of the surveying staff' 1898-1900); POST 30/2253C ('Surveying and engineering Districts: lists of Head Offices and boundary maps obtained' c 1912); POST 30/3106A ('Maps: new surveying, engineering and telephone districts' c 1914); POST 33/20B ('Surveying department reorganisation. Introduction of the Headquarters system, files 1-15' c.1921); POST 33/21 ('Surveying department reorganisation. Introduction of the Headquarters system, files 16-25' c.1921); POST 72/263 ('Recollections of surveying sixty years ago by T Kelly', 1955).

For files relating to the work of the Decentralisation Committee see POST 122/5151 ('Extension of Postmaster General's Financial Powers: 1910. Decentralisation Committee's report, appendix 'A'. Schedule showing additional powers to be conferred on Surveyors-General, independent and large and small Postmasters') and 122/5153 ('Extension of Postmaster General's Financial Powers: Treasury Schedules - historical summary. Definitions used by Decentralisation Committee. Specimen entries for No. 2 schedules. Memoranda on No. 1 schedules and on rents schedule'), POST 30/1953 and 30/1954 ('Reports, evidence of witnesses, parts 1 and 2').

For files relating to the recommendations of the Bridgeman Committee see: POST 33/5034 ('Bridgeman Committee Report: views of staff associations', 1932-1934).POST 72/239 ('Post Office Regional Committee Reports'), POST 33/5352 ('Regionalisation: estimates of cost', 1935-1949).

For files relating to departmental devolution committees see: POST 72/267 ('First Report of the Postal Services Department Devolution Committee 1935'), POST 72/269 ('First Report of the Personnel department Devolution Committee, Dec 11 1935'), POSt 72/272 ('Second Report of the Personnel Devolution Committee, May 1936').

For files relating to the Working Party of Regionalisation see: POST 122/342 ('Working Party on Regionalisation: Replies to Whitley Council 1945-1958'), POST 121/465 ('Working Party on Regionalisation: papers and report'), POST 122/121 ('Regionalisation: implementation of part 2 of the Working Party's report; information and returns furnished to Committee').

For files relating to the functional split of Regions see: POST 122/13282-13292 for Regional response, POST 122/13645-13649 for Scotland and Northern Irish reponses, POST 122/12357 ('Organisation: regional split into postal and telecommunication. Regional Directors', 1966-1968), POSt 122/12591 ('Reorganisation: Regional split', 1966-1967) and POSt 122/13326 ('Reorganisation of Post Office: Split of Regions. Whitley arrangements' 1967-1969).

See also POST 92/1528: Post Office Green paper on 'Post Office Regionalisation', published May 1937, consisting of the text of a lecture to the Post Office Telephone and Telegraph Society of London on 18 January 1937, delivered by D J Lidbury, DSO Reorganisation Branch Personnel Department.


Archivist's note: Entry checked by Barbara Ball

Rules or conventions: Compiled in compliance with General International Standard Archival Description, ISAD(G), second edition, 2000; National Council on Archives Rules for the Construction of Personal, Place and Corporate Names, 1997.

Date(s) of descriptions: Entry checked June 2011

Bridgeman Report (1932) | Reports | Documents | Information sources
Postal services | Communication industry

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