A string of Midland-based postal companies is lining up to make the most of the end of Royal Mail's monopoly on deliveries.
Royal Mail has vowed to "fight for every letter" when its loses the position it has held for 350 years tomorrow as the UK's postal service market is opened up, allowing rival companies to collect, sort and deliver mail for the first time since the reign of Charles II.
Among the rivals are UK Mail, the consumer operation of Birmingham-based Business Post, and Dutch postal service TNT. The region is home to TNT's UK headquarters in Atherstone as well as the largest UK depot at Network Park in Saltley, Birmingham.
The firm also has sites in Kingsbury, Nuneaton, Cannock and Hartlebury in Worcestershire. "We do want to create our own delivery network, but that will take time and you probably won't end up with orange TNT pillar boxes everywhere because us handling your granny's postcard is unlikely," said TNT Mail chief executive Nick Wells.
"What we do want is to create an alternative over time to Royal Mail, but bear in mind that they have this 350-year heritage and head start on us. What I can guarantee is that we won't compete head-to-head with Royal Mail."
Another company which has a licence to operate deliveries is Nuneaton-based Lynx Mail.
Most of the competition is expected to be in business mail, which accounts for 80 per cent of the market and helped boost Royal Mail profits by 20 per cent to £159 million in the first half of 2005.
Despite competition from European rivals in the UK, Royal Mail will not be allowed to compete in their countries because the markets on the Continent have not yet been liberalised.
Postcomm, the industry regulator, said competition in the UK market would give customers choice and create a more efficient service.
Watchdog Postwatch backed the move but unions have warned an erosion of Royal Mail's business mail operations could jeopardise the cherished but loss-making universal postal service, which guarantees daily deliveries across the UK.
Royal Mail currently loses 5p for every first-class letter delivered and 8p for every second-class letter.
Royal Mail said it was ready to take on its new rivals but warned its ability to compete would be hampered by years of under-investment which meant only 50 per cent of its letters were sorted mechanically compared with 90 per cent among competitors.
Spokesman David Simpson said: "Royal Mail will fight hard for every single letter.
"Royal Mail is determined to compete successfully in the open market - but in order to do so we need a fair regulatory regime and the ability to invest £2 billion in the modernisation of the business."
At present, rival companies can compete with Royal Mail in the bulk mail market of more than 4,000 items - around 30 per cent of the market by value - although Royal Mail still has a market share of over 97 per cent.
Much of the mail dealt with by rival companies is passed on to Royal Mail for delivery.