§ Mr. Webb
To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry if he will list the principal activities of his Department and its agencies which provide business for(a) Crown post offices and (b) other post offices; if he will assess whether the level of business generated in each case is likely to increase or decrease over the next five years; and which new areas of business for post offices are likely to be developed by his Department and its agencies over the same period. 
§ Mr. Alan Johnson
By the nature of their operations and activities, this Department and its agencies do not directly provide business for Crown or other post offices and this position is not expected to change over the next five years. Currently no specific new areas of business for post offices are foreseen by this department but the targets for electronic delivery of services (50 per cent. by 2005, 100 per cent. by 2008) represent a real opportunity for additional business for the Post Office network across all public services delivered by central Government. Moreover, equivalent targets are now being set for local Government and there is an opportunity for the Post Office network to gain further business in delivery of services which are the responsibility of local Government. In addition to these Modern Government initiatives, the potential to provide a wider range of banking and other financial services through the Horizon automated system could facilitate an increase in the levels of business generated by or with Government Departments and agencies.22W
§ Mr. Corbett
To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry how many post offices there are in each parliamentary constituency; and how many of them transact more than 40 per cent. of their work volumes on behalf of the Benefits Agency. 
§ Mr. Alan Johnson
[holding answer 25 November 1999]: I have obtained from the Post Office a list providing the information requested and have arranged for a copy to be placed in the Library of the House.
§ Fiona Mactaggart
To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry if he has approved the Post Office's five year Strategic Plan; and if he will make a statement. 
§ Mr. Byers
I am pleased to announce Government approval of the Post Office's Strategic Plan for 1999–2004. This is a five year rolling Plan which will be updated annually. The Plan, as submitted by the Post Office Board meets the requirements set out in the Post Office White Paper (CM 434) and represents a key element in the new arm's length relationship that the Government is now establishing with the Post Office in fulfilment of the reforms described in the White Paper. The Post Office will now be pursuing and developing their strategy and this will be reflected in the Plan for 2000–05, which the Board will be presenting to me next spring.
For the Post Office both to modernise and improve services to customers in this country and to develop into a significant global player in distribution markets poses tough challenges, but exciting opportunities. In an increasingly competitive market place for postal services these challenges should not be underestimated as the Post Office itself fully recognises. This means that the Post Office must successfully build on current initiatives and seize commercial opportunities as they arise in the UK and internationally.
The key features of the Strategic Plan are commercially confidential, and as such will not be published. However, on the basis of the Plan the Government have set a post-tax profit target of £350 million for the financial year 1999–2000. This figure excludes any exceptional provisions which may be made for the Horizon automation project. As already announced, the Government have set the external financing regime (excluding adjustments for Horizon and acquisitions) as 50 per cent. of the post-tax profits for this year, and therefore, if the Post Office achieves the profit target, this equivalent of a commercial dividend will be £175 million. In the unlikely event of the Post Office falling short of the profit target the minimum figure will be £140 million. The Post Office will not pay dividends until it becomes a plc but in the meantime will set aside the relevant amount in its reserves.