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Sir Sydney Chapman: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry (1) what the percentage change in real postage prices is for (a) first and (b) second class letters over the last (i) five, (ii) 10 and (iii) 20 years; and what these prices would be in today's money; 
Mr. Alexander [holding answer 14 February 2002]: I am informed by Consignia that the percentage change in real postage prices is as follows:
|Years||First class basic weight step percentage||Second class basic weight step percentage|
First and second basic weight step prices in September 2001 prices are:
Mrs. Curtis-Thomas: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry if she will list the current documents published that present concise details of the sources of funding for small businesses. 
Nigel Griffiths: The Small Business Service has a brochure, Sources of Finance for your Business, which is aimed at helping small businesses decide what kind of finance is most appropriate to their needs. It contains details about sources of help and advice and contacts for further information. Copies of the booklet have been
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distributed throughout the Business Link network, and also with Banks, Accountants and a wide variety of other financial institutions and business support organisations.
Mrs. Curtis-Thomas: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry if the Competition Commission, as part of its SME banking investigation, is investigating the practice of routinely requiring personal guarantees from the proprietors of small businesses seeking finance. 
Nigel Griffiths: As the issue of personal guarantees relates to banking services, and the Government's response to the Competition Commission report into the supply of banking services to small and medium enterprises has not yet been published, it would be inappropriate to comment further at this time.
Mrs. Curtis-Thomas: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry what her definition is of (a) the term 'rural' defined with repect to rural post offices and (b) the term 'community' defined with respect to community post offices. 
Mr. Alexander: A rural post office is defined as one serving a community of up to 10,000 inhabitants. Community offices are post offices which keep shorter hours than usual in response to local conditions.
Mrs. Curtis-Thomas: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry who is entitled to apply for funds from the fund which has been established to sustain community post offices; what the eligibility criteria are; and what attempts have been made to inform post offices of the fund. 
Mr. Alexander: I refer to the answer given to the hon. Member for Gordon (Mr. Bruce) of 10 December 2001, Official Report, column 650W.
The former Minister for Competitiveness wrote to every parish and community council in the UK in March 2001 to announce the fund which is now promoted by rural transfer advisers from Post Office Limited.
Mrs. Curtis-Thomas: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry what actions have been taken to prevent the avoidable closure of post offices; and what her definition is of the term avoidable closure defined in this context. 
Mr. Alexander: Post Office Ltd. has set up a team of rural transfer advisers to explore options for keeping rural sub-post offices open and is administering the £2 million Government fund to assist volunteer and community initiatives to maintain or re-establish post office services in rural communities. Through such measures, Post Office Ltd. is continuing its efforts to reopen sub-post offices where there have been recent closures.
Consignia define an unavoidable closure of a post office as one where no one suitable is prepared to take over from the departing sub-postmaster, where no suitable premises remain available or can be identified or where an associated retail business is no longer commercially viable.
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Mrs. Curtis-Thomas: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry if the Small Business Service has published a strategy for (a) 200203 and (b) 200212, with associated milestones and targets. 
Nigel Griffiths: The Small Business Service has published a strategy for 200104. Milestones and key performance targets are set out in SBS's annual business plan. The annual operational targets for SBS are announced in the House.
The strategy and business plan are available on www.sbs.gov.uk.
Mr. Evans: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry what the average salary of a post office sub-postmaster is in (a) the constituency of the Ribble Valley, and Fulwood, (b) Lancashire, (c) the North West of England, (d) Wales and (e) the United Kingdom, in each year since 1997. 
Mr. Alexander: I understand from Post Office Ltd. that the average figures for sub-postmasters' remuneration were:
Figures are not kept on parliamentary constituency or regional bases.
Mr. Evans: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry how many full-time equivalents are employed by Post Office Counters Ltd. in (a) the parliamentary constituency of the Ribble Valley and Fulwood, (b) Lancashire, (c) the North West of England, (d) Wales and (e) the United Kingdom, in each year since 1997. 
Mr. Alexander: I understand from Post Office Ltd. that in the United Kingdom, since 1997, the numbers of full-time equivalents employed by Post Office Ltd. (POL) and previously Post Office Network (PON) and Post Office Counters Ltd. (POCL) were:
|As at January|
|2000||PON, Network Banking and Cash Handling and Distribution||14,391|
|2001||PON, Network Banking||(6)12,266|
(6) Cash Handling and Distribution reporting as a separate business.
(7) Cash Handling and Distribution not included.
Figures are not kept on constituency or regional bases.
Mr. Dalyell: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry whether AMEC has applied for export
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credit guarantees in connection with the Belize dam project. 
Ms Hewitt: We have received no application from AMEC in respect of any Belize dam project.
Mr. Martyn Jones: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry what assessment she has made of the performance of the UK recorded in the European Commission report, Implementation of the European Charter for Small Enterprises; and if she will make a statement. 
Nigel Griffiths: The UK is delighted with the European Commission's full report on the implementation of "The European Charter for Small Enterprises". The Commission calls for the European Union to 'Think Small First' when developing enterprise policiesmirroring the approach already adopted by the United Kingdom. In their examination of national enterprise policies, the Commission highlighted the following UK initiatives:
among the lowest costs and shortest time required to start a business in the EU
steps introduced to modernise insolvency laws and allow honest failure
the introduction of scholarships for potential entrepreneurs from deprived areas
the establishment of a Regulatory Impact Assessment system that analyses alternatives to regulation
the High Technology Fund which invests in early-stage high-technology focused funds getting businesses to trade online with tough targets
the introduction of an E-Envoy
the launching of a programme to promote links between universities and business for the commercial exploitation of university research so we make the most of our innovative potential.
The UK looks forward to a full evaluation of the report at the spring summit in Barcelona and a clear reaffirmation of the EU to fulfilling all the commitments set out in the charter.
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