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The first good deed in 2012

1st January 2012

After writing the junk mail annual for 2011 it seems appropriate to say something about the year ahead.

The main thing to note is that I'll have considerable less time to spend on Stop Junk Mail. For the next couple of months I'll be working full time rather than part time in my 'proper' job (the one that helps pay the bills). It's rather unfortunate, as there are likely to be a number of interesting developments in the world of junk mail and as I got enough on the 'to do' list as it is. I'm hoping to keep the website going but have no idea how things will work out.

In a way having less time may be a good thing. If anything, it forces you to just get on with things. For instance, while writing the above-mentioned junk mail annual I decided I should pick up on two issues that have long since annoyed me: the Government's failure to respond to its own consultation about the future of the edited electoral register (which junk mailers still use as a cheap and convenient junk mail list) and the website of the All-Party Group on Junk Mail (which is used to promote a particular junk mail company, despite the fact that the Group no longer exists). And so I've done my first good deed this year; I fired off an e-mail to my local MP:

Dear Mr Wright,

I am writing to you concerning two junk mail related issues; the public consultation on the future of the edited electoral register and the website of the (no longer existing) All-Party Group on Junk Mail.

In February 2010 I responded to a public consultation on the future of the edited version of the electoral register. As you will know, the consultation was organised after the Information Commissioner had recommended abolishing the register in July 2008. It took the Government of the day more than a year to announce the consultation, and it is now more than 18 months since Government was supposed to respond to the consultation.

It seems clear Government is trying to kick the issue in the long grass. I find this an insult to all the people who took part in the consultation. I spent about three days on my own contribution. To not even receive an apology for Government's failure to respond to its own consultation comes across as highly arrogant.

I am not sure if there is any point in passing my comments to the relevant minister / department - looking at the page listing closed consultations that are awaiting a response on the website of the Ministry of Justice it seems it is quite common for Government to organise consultations only to ignore all the people who responded. However, it might be an idea for Government to look at how it communicates with the public in these cases. For instance, sending a letter clarifying why no response is forthcoming seems a polite thing to do. Ignoring people who take part in public consultations is just rude.

The second issue I wish to raise is the website of the former All-Party Group on Junk Mail. In 2009 I had sent a couple of e-mails to the Group about the information in its so-called 'Junk Mail Toolkit'. I never received a response, and learned in January 2010 that the Group was no longer listed on the Register of All-Party Groups.

My concern about the 'Toolkit' is that the information it contains is factually incorrect, incomplete and biased. In particular, it refers people to four opt-out schemes for junk mail, two of which are commercial opt-out schemes run by the Read Group Plc – which happens to be the company that also provided the secretariat of the Group.

I doubt it is correct for an All-Party Group to promote particular commercial interests. What concerns me more, though, is that the Read Group has decided to keep the Group's website ( online. To the average visitor it is not at all clear that the Group has ceased to exist, yet no MP or Lord has control over the content of the website. The fact that I did not get a response after contacting the Group reflects poorly not only on the MPs and Lords that are (were) members of the Group, but on Parliament as a whole. Yet, it was in fact the Read Group that failed to respond to my e-mails. Apparently, the company not only provided the secretariat of the Group but also acted as censor.

I am not sure what the rules for All-Party Groups are, but it seems appropriate that the Read Group is asked to take the website down.

I look forward to your reply.

Yours sincerely,

My guess is the e-mail will be forwarded to the relevant Government departments, which in turn will politely ignore the issues raised. Even so, at least it gave me the opportunity to talk about them on this blog. Maybe it's now up to others to do something with it…

Last updated: 
1st January 2012