The French post office La Poste is one of the few public services in France that gets high praise from the public for the quality of its service.
It is not just the amiable postman that wins it for them, but the widespread presence of post office counters in most villages of the country. France has one of the highest number of post-boxes of any country in the world.
The scale of its presence across the country is also one reason why La Poste is one of the most subsidised postal services in the world.
However, the service does not operate without some criticism, often about unsatisfactory opening times (particularly in rural areas) and the waiting time that is sometimes necessary (without a seat) on busy days.
In recent years, prices have also moved up sharply, and the tariff system can be difficult to understand.
Whilst La Poste claim that 80% of the post is delivered the next day, independent surveys suggest this not the case.
There is also concern about parcels that never arrive, and postman who leave a notice of a parcel delivery or recorded delivery letter for later collection from the post office, without making enough effort to find someone at home.
As well as having responsibility for postal delivery, La Poste is now a fully-fledged bank (La Banque Postale), offering a broad range of services, including savings accounts and secured and unsecured loans.
Many French nationals hold a bank account with them, for historic reasons, but also because their services are often cheaper.
In recent years La Poste has been undertaking a huge programme of modernisation in sorting equipment and in the post offices themselves.
There is to be a far stronger commercial orientation in the new post offices, which are to be ‘bureaux-boutiques’, offering a broader range of products for sale as well as postal services.
There is also now a strong on-line presence, from which you can obtain access to a number of services.
Whilst La Poste is currently a state owned service, under EU regulations it is planned that postal services in France will be fully open to competition, at which time the French post office will become a plc, with the government remaining as the majority shareholder.
However, a planned date of 2011 for privatisation of La Poste was abandoned by the government due to the economic crisis. There is also a general reluctance to let go of this national public institution.
There is concern amongst consumer groups that privatisation may lead to the closure of uneconomic post offices and, while this risk exists, a public service agreement will be in operation that should protect many smaller rural post offices.
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