§ Mr. Flook
To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry what[...] assessment the Post Office has made of (a) Tesco's decision to close a number of post offices and (b) the impact it will have on the Network Re-invention proposals in (a)England and (b) Somerset; 
(2) what discussions the Post Office has had with Tesco plc on their policy of closure of post offices in stores formerly run by T & S Stores plc. 333W
§ Mr. Timms
[holding answers 16 March 2004]: Discussions have been held between Post Office Ltd. and Tesco to determine what future plans Tesco has for its estate of stores containing post offices. Tesco is undertaking a site-by-site review, and in a minority of locations where they establish a Tesco Express format and the site is not consequently large enough also to operate a Post Office branch, they may wish to terminate the Post Office contract for the site in question.
In its review, Tesco is committed to working closely with Post Office Ltd. and regular discussions are held.
The removal of a post office branch from a Tesco owned store is not a permanent closure and Post Office Ltd. has given assurances that, where there remains a need for post office provision, it will look to relocate, in the same vicinity, offices that Tesco want to remove from its stores. Post Office Ltd. will consider whether to relocate or permanently close those offices on an individual basis.
Any proposals for the permanent removal of post office provision can only be made by Post Office Ltd. in the context of a lack of viability, and requires a period of public consultation as agreed between Post Office Ltd. and the consumer body Postwatch before a decision is reached. At the end of it s current programme to restructure the urban post offer network, Post Office Ltd. will ensure that there will be a post office within a mile of at least 95 per cent. of the urban population nationally
§ Mr. Timms
[holding answers 16 March 2004]: Tesco acquired the T&S Group chain of convenience stores in October 2002 when in total 318 T&S stores trading under the 'One Stop' and `Billons' contained Post Office branches.
In taking over T&S, Tesco took over the Post Office contracts for the individual sites and has since been reviewing how many of these Post Offices will be retained. Tesco has committed to giving six months notice of its intention to terminate any contract, allowing Post Office Ltd. sufficient opportunity to find alternative partners to continue to offer post office services in close proximity to the existing location, and to working with all parties to seek a smooth changeover process for customers in the area where there remains a need for post office provision.
As Post Office Ltd. has operational responsibility for the post office network, only it can propose permanent closure of a post office branch. I understand from the company that, to date, Tesco has given notice of its decision to terminate the post office contract in respect of 38 locations. In all cases the period of notice for 334W withdrawing from the contract is still running and no closures have yet taken place. Any reversal of such a decision would be a commercial and operational matter for Tesco and Post Office Ltd.