§ Geraldine Smith
To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry what funding has been made available to protect rural post offices in the Morecambe and Lunesdale constituency. 569W
§ Mr. Timms
A number of measures are in place to maintain the network of rural post offices. These include the formal requirement placed on the Post Office in November 2000 to prevent any avoidable closures. We also have a £2 million rural post office capital start up fund to support volunteer and community initiatives to maintain or re-establish a rural post office facility where the traditional post office is under threat of closure or has recently closed. Under this scheme, grants of up to £20,000 are available to support the costs of relocating or refurbishing alternative premises. At the end of May 180 grants had been approved, totalling £1,335,173, and payments of £1,073,067 had been made nationally. I understand from Post Office Ltd. that the company is yet to receive any applications under this scheme from sub-postmasters in Morecambe and Lunesdale.
Rural post offices will also benefit from the £450 million package of financial support for the rural post office network that I announced on 2 December 2002. And the rural network also benefits from investment in the network generally. For example, the rural network benefits from the considerable investment in the network's IT, and in new products, including universal banking services. On automation alone the Government has made the largest ever investment in the Post Office network—£480 million—much of it on the rural network. There is no breakdown of the proportion of this funding that has been spent on supporting rural sub-post offices in the Morecambe and Lunesdale constituency.