Corresponding by email

Whenever I write to Kevin Barron I always request a reply via email – for reasons of cost, speed and environmental impact. He always replies on paper.

I emailed him to ask why some time ago, but can’t lay my hands on the letter at the moment as I didn’t previously archive them – but basically the letter made the point that emial is quicker, cheaper and less environmentally damaging than using paper.

Kevin replied that he thinks paper based communication is more secure, and means that his constituents get equal access to him.

I wrote the following letter on the 23rd March:

Dear Kevin Barron,

Please could you tell me – by email – why you refuse to answer correspondence by email?

You have previously used arguments to do with privacy and fairness with regard to response times.

These are spurious arguments.

With regard to privacy, none of my correspondence with you has been sensitive in nature, and I always request a response by email.

With regard to equality of access, you need not reply any quicker via email (although it would be nice!) – it is just a different means of
delivery.

I estimate the extra variable cost of replying to me by paper mail over email to be about 40p (postage, paper, other admin). The environmental
impact of email is also much smaller.

Can you explain why you refuse to reply by email (and don’t even acknowledge my request to do so) given your previously stated reasons are demonstrably false, and the fact that the cost to the taxpayer and the earth of sending a letter is much higher that sending an email?

It worries me that my elected representative, who has influence over billions of pounds of our country’s finite resources, can make such illogical choices about how to use those resources on a micro level, and shudder to think of the cost if such choices were to be applied on a macro scale. Why choose the almost infinitely more expensive option when the cheaper alternative is better even if cost is not an issue?

I would appreciate a response to xxx@xxx.xx

I recieved the following reply on 26th March:


The reason I do not use email to reply to correspondence is that the paper based system I have used in my office for a number of years has worked perfectly well.

Correspondence is immediately on hand, filed away in hard copy for a number of years, after which time the paper is shredded and recycled. This system has worked perfectly well for many years and you are the only constituent that has ever questioned my method of correspondence.

I would like to point out that when you first started writing to me you talked about how the government interfered with way your business is run. I could argue that you are attempting to interfere with the way I conduct my work.

Not happy with this response – as it didn’t address any of my concerns but did introduce further weak defences of using postal replies, I sent the following response on the 2nd April:

Dear Kevin Barron,

Ref: your letter of 26th March 2009 KJB/SW

Please reply via email to xxxx@xxx.xxx

In response to my question about using email to reply to my emails, I can’t help but notice that you have entirely ignored the benefits of email which I pointed out to you.

To recap, the benefits of using email I pointed out are:

1) Cost – the marginal cost of sending an email is virtually nothing. The marginal cost of sending a letter is the postage, plus the expensive looking stationery. I conservatively estimate the letter to cost 40p, and the email 1p.

2) Speed – An emailed response would reach me almost instantly, whereas a letter takes at least 12 hours.

3) It is this constituents preferred method of delivery

4) Environmental – you have your computer turned on anyway to print your letters, so the carbon footprint of an email will be much smaller than correspondence printed using a laser printer onto paper, which is then physically transported.

Instead you say you use paper based correspondence because:

1) Your current system works well

2) You have hard copies ‘immediately on hand’ to refer to

3) No-one has complained before

Although I am naturally biased, I would suggest my arguments in favour of using email are significantly stronger than your arguments against. The fact that you have failed to address a single one of my points suggests that you agree with me.

Argument 3 is so poor that in conversation it wouldn’t warrant a response, but as you have included it as a written argument it strikes me that you think it might be a valid point. I would imagine that for a significant proportion of your time as an MP email has not been a mainstream means of communicating with people, so the fact that no-one complained about you not using it between 1987 and 1998 is hardly surprising.  The fact that I am the only person to have requested responses by email since does not in any way undermine any of the advantages of email over paper based communications, nor does it make your arguments in favour of using paper any stronger, nor does it constitute an argument in it’s own right. A lack of complaints does not necessarily imply that people are happy, and it certainly doesn’t guarantee it.

I was interested that you think your paper-based system means your correspondence is ‘immediately on hand’. Does this mean you have copies in Westminster and the Rother Valley? It is especially interesting that it doesn’t seem to have occurred to you that your emails could be truly
‘immediately on hand’ wherever you were if there were stored on a computer – a surprising omission from the chairman of a committee that believes that relying on a paper based system that has previously worked well is so grossly inefficient that it is spending of over £12.5 billion on a system that allows the health service to store communication on computers so they can be accessed anywhere.

Of course if you insist that your paper based system (with or without duplication between Westminster and the Rother Valley) is the quickest way to access your documents, there is no reason at all why you couldn’t just print one copy of your letters to me for your records, and email me my copy. It would still be cheaper (cash and carbon) than what you imply you do now, which is print two copies, one to post and one to file. It would be quicker, cheaper, more environmentally friendly, be responsive to your constituents request and allow you to have paper copies of everything. Is there a reason you don’t do this?

You mention that ‘after a number of years’ the paper correspondence is shredded and recycled. I am not sure why you mention this – was it to suggest that your methods are environmentally friendly (recycled) and secure (shredded)?

If I take the implied environmentally friendly action first – can you tell me how the following:

1) Print two copies of a letter on to paper (resources used: electricity for computer, electricity for printer, printing media, paper)

2) Print an address on an envelope (resources used: electricity for computer, electricity for printer, printing media, envelop)

3) Post letter (resources used: fuel, labour)

4) File one paper copy (resources: labour, space)

5) Un-file paper copy (resources: labour)

6) Shred paper copy (resources: labour, electricity for shredder)

7) Have shredded paper collected (resources: fuel)

8) Have collected paper recycled (resources: fuel, labour)

can possibly be more environmentally friendly than:

1) Email a copy of correspondence (resources: electricity for computer and communication network)

2) Save an encrypted copy, save an encrypted backup (resources: electricity, two HDD)

3) If the HDD fills up, press ‘sort into date order’ and delete the oldest (resources: labour)

As for the implication that your system is secure because you shred old documents: if you are suggesting that saving data on a computer is not secure then can you explain why that concern has not prevented you from voting in favour of a number of projects that involve the government managing vast computer databases?

You also mention in your letter that you ‘could argue the case that [I] am attempting to interfere with the way [you] conduct your work,’ comparing that to my previous complaints about government interference in the way I run my business. I fear this is where you as a public official, and me as an individual trying to make a living differ. You imply that me asking you reply by email is a direct analogy with the government interfering with my business. It isn’t any such thing.

Government interference in the way I run my business is always geared toward making me give the government more money. That is why I resent it. Even when it is spun as the government helping out business (for example the cut in VAT) it is badly executed (expecting retailers to change prices on everything at the start of the busiest month of the year) and is never a true benefit (VAT is going up in a year to pay for the cut).

However, if the government, or you yourself, were to come in to my business and suggest ways in which I could change my practices that would save me – and by extension my customers – money, or would help the environment, or would help me give better service to my customers, I would thank you kindly, give you credit for the idea and implement it.

I have written to you doing exactly that, but as you seemingly feel no pressure to be efficient, have little concern for the environment and care little for your ‘customers’ you have chosen to ignore the input.

Finally we come to your argument that ‘your current system works well.’ If we had all had the attitude that our current situation was acceptable, we would never have come down from the trees. I would rather hope that someone in your position of responsibility would have an open mind to a better way of doing things – and I think e-mail is demonstrably better – rather than being a Luddite. Especially if, as previously mentioned, that person is also spending billions of pounds on systems that seek to improve on existing systems. As pointed out earlier though, if you want to keep your system the same at your end, you could do that and still reply to me via the method that is, in summary, a direct request from one of your constituents, cheaper, quicker, and more environmentally friendly.

The fact that you refuse to do so, and have offered such insulting poor arguments for not doing so suggests a combination of arrogance, stubbornness and a lack of respect for your constituents.

Please can you undertake to respond to all future correspondence from me via email if requested to do so?

3 responses to “Corresponding by email

  1. And the reply on paper was……. ?

  2. He hasn’t replied yet – but then he has been ‘researching binge drinking’ in New Zealand for the past few weeks.

    (I think I might start using the phrase ‘researching binge drinking’ “How did you end of year exams go?” “OK I suppose, but I would probably have done better if I hadn’t spent most of the second term researching binge drinking”)

  3. I’ve had a reply but I just haven’t had time to type it up yet – Kevin Barron has found the blog, and thinks he has rumbled me – he thinks I only want emailed replies so I can post them here, a conclusion which he seems to think allows him to ignore the overwhelming case for replying via email even though it is

    a) irrelevant and
    b) incorrect.

    I’ll post his reply when I get chance.

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