Britain’s iconic post boxes could be threatened after the Royal Mail is privatised, critics have warned.
The postal giant, under state control, has largely maintained the number of boxes across the country at around 115,500.
But opponents of the sell-off fear the figure could fall as private investors force the company to slash costs.
The first roadside letter box in the UK was erected in Jersey in 1852, followed a year later at Botchergate, Carlise.
But their use has been falling along with a rapid decline in stamped mail and the growth of emails and text messaging
Sources say it is not uncommon for postal workers to collect just one item at some post boxes, even in semi urban areas.
Telecoms regulator Ofcom brought in new rules earlier this year stating 98% of homes must be within half a mile of a post box.
But critics warn there will be pressure to loosen these restrictions further, along with pushing up the price of stamps and closing delivery offices.
Billy Hayes, general secretary of the Communication Workers Union, said: “One of the effects of privatsation will be a reduction in services.
“Not only is the universal service at risk but prices will certainly go up and a reduction in post boxes is very likely in an attempt to drive down costs.”
Shadow Business Secretary Chuka Umunna added: “We already know that ministers are disregarding the interests of consumers and small businesses in pursuit of their fire sale of Royal Mail.
“We know that the delivery offices people rely on could be sold off. But now the historic and much-loved pillar box is being put at risk too.
“The classic red pillar box is a feature of virtually every city, town, village and hamlet across the country, is an instantly-recognisable British icon known globally.
“But now it could be thrown on the scrapheap in the interest of making a fast buck for shareholders as Royal Mail is sold off in what looks like a cut-price deal with the taxpayer being short changed.”
The warning came as investors rushed to buy shares in Royal Mail ahead of today’s (Tues) midnight deadline, hoping to cash-in on a windfall.
Shares have been priced at between £2.60p and £3.30p each but are expected to rise when the company floats on the stock market.
The company is currently valued at £3.3billion but analysts at Panmure Gordon say it could be worth as much as £4.5billion.
Former home secretary Alan Johnson, who worked as a postman as a teenager, said: “There is a vast difference between pricing Royal Mail shares conservatively and undervaluing them by £1billion. This is ripping off the taxpayer on an epic scale.”
The Government is selling up to 62% of the business, with a 10% stake being handed for free to Royal Mail employees.
Ministers have rushed through the sale before postal workers strike over privatisation, along with pay, pensions and conditions.
The CWU is balloting staff but the earlier any strike can take place is October 23rd, after shares in the firm are trading.
The Mirror revealed on Saturday that Royal Mail boss Moya Greene has written to workers pleading for them not to walk out and offering a £300 payment to anyone who crosses the picket line.
However, union chiefs branded the move a “bribe” and have vowed to fight on.
Robert Cole, of the Letter Box Study Group, said it was reassured with support from the current Royal Mail management.
He said: “The letter box is an advert for the company on every street corner. Why would you want to get rid of them?”
There are numerous post box styles but tradition dictates they change along with the monarch. Around 60% of the 115,500 were erected during the current Queen’s reign.