To ask the Deputy Prime Minister what the cost is of subsidy proposals to keep (a) rural and (b) urban post offices in areas of deprivation open.
I have been asked to reply.The Government regards it as most important that all communities have good access to postal and Government services and we are committed to doing all we can to support the management of the company to ensure a viable Post Office network for the future. We are investing very substantial sums in supporting this transformation of the network—some £2 billion in total over the next five years, including £450 million funding to support the rural network as a whole until 2006.A number of measures are already 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 and the establishment of a £2 million capital start up fund to support volunteer and community initiatives to maintain or re-establish a 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. Of the £2 million fund to support community post office initiatives 165 grants have been approved, totalling £1,231,454, and payments totalling £931,478 paid as at end of March 2003.On the urban network, the Government have provided £210 million for the urban reinvention programme, and provided £15 million for a scheme to support offices in deprived urban areas throughout England, through grants for capital investment. Similar schemes have been launched in Scotland and Wales.