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7 Jan 2003 : Column 150Wcontinued
Mr. Yeo: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry how much of the time she spent in the last six months working as a Minister was spent on issues relating to her role as (a) Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, (b) Minister for Women and (c) E-Minister in the Cabinet. 
Ms Hewitt [holding answer 16 December 2002]: My roles as Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, Minister for Women and E-Minister in the Cabinet are closely linked, and it is not practicable to make an assessment of my time spent on each subject without incurring disproportionate cost.
Mr. Crausby: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry whether her Department hired UBS Warburg to advise it and the MoD on issues arising from the Nimrod and Astute contracts with BAE Systems. 
Alan Johnson: The Government has retained the services of UBS Warburg to provide specialist financial advice. There is nothing unusual in this, as it is not uncommon for Government to bring in external experts for specialist advice.
Dr. Cable: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry what reports she has made to the Prime Minister on progress in implementing the recommendations made by the PIU for modernising the Post Office network; if she will publish the reports; and if she will make a statement. 
Mr. Timms [holding answer 19 December 2002]: Postcomm reports annually on the post office network and its second annual report was published on 30 September 2002. The Prime Minister's Office has also been kept abreast of progress in implementing the recommendations made by the PIU for modernising the Post Office network; there are no plans for publication. We have separately kept Parliament informed of progress.
Dr. Cable: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry what action she has taken to facilitate the distribution to customers by sub-postmasters of material produced by their trade association concerning changes to the payment of benefits and pensions; and if she will make a statement. 
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Mr. Timms: The marketing of universal banking services is, like other post office services, a matter for Post Office Ltd, in line with any contractual obligations. It is inappropriate for other organisations or individuals to produce their own marketing materials. Competing marketing materials would run the risk of misleading and worrying customers.
Mr. Timms [holding answer 19 December 2002]: Royal Mail Holdings published their interim financial statements on 14 November 2002. These showed that in the six months to 29 September 2002 the company made a post-tax loss of #484 million on turnover of just under #4 billion. The company's accumulated capital and reserves stood at #2,127 million.
The Government believe the necessary changes to remedy this disappointing performance are now under way. These changes include the appointment of new board members, a major restructuring programme under the chairman, Allan Leighton, and making available the #1.8 billion of accumulated reserves, which will back investment required in the mails business and Post Office Ltd.
Dr. Cable: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry if she will set out the timetable for (a) testing and (b) installing the software systems for operating the new Post Office card accounts. 
Mr. Timms [holding answer 9 December 2002]: These are matters that fall within the day-to-day responsibility of Post Office Ltd. and I have therefore asked the Chief Executive to reply direct to the hon. Member.
The Government and Post Office Ltd. are working together to ensure that frontline staff have all the information they need to answer any questions from customers about banking facilities in Post Office branches.
Post Office Ltd. has now sent three pieces of communication to all Post Office branches: a leaflet entitled XYour essential guide to your customers' banking options" to explain to sub-postmasters all the options available to customers; a customer child benefit leaflet for issue to customers; and, a Banking Information Pack. I am informed that all have received positive feedback from sub-postmasters.
Dr. Cable: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry how many post offices are being run by modified sub-postmasters, working on (a) short-term, (b) temporary contracts and (c) long-term contracts; and if she will make a statement; 
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Mr. Timms [holding answer 19 December 2002]: These are matters that fall within the day-to-day responsibility of Post Office Ltd. and I have therefore asked the Chief Executive to reply direct to the hon. Member.
John Barrett: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry pursuant to her answer of 16 December 2002, Official Report, columns 54243W, on post offices, when she expects the first proposals for closures to be announced. 
Mr. Timms : I understand from Post Office Ltd. that the first proposals for post office closures under the urban reinvention programme went out to public consultation under the Code of Practice in respect of 25 offices on 29 November, followed by closure proposals for a further 32 offices on 16 December.
Mr. Yeo: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry if she will estimate the change in revenue of the average Post Office branch as a result of changes to the method of paying benefits from April 2003. 
Ms Hewitt: The migration of benefit payments to ACT will take place over two years from April 2003. There will not be a sudden drop in benefit book related income in April 2003. On changeover of payment arrangements, all customers who wish to do so will be able to access their benefits in cash at a post office counter and sub-postmasters will be remunerated for those transactions. The change in revenue as a result of changes to the method of paying benefits from April 2003 will vary according to the individual circumstances of each office, and the extent to which they develop new revenue streams, including from banking services.
Post Office Ltd. continues to develop plans for expansion of revenue generating services in the post office network. Banking will be a central part of the Post Office's strategy to move forward. Universal banking services, together with plans for the expansion of network banking, should lead to substantial increases in the range and volume of banking at post offices, tapping into a very much larger customer base than benefit recipients alone.
Mr. Timms: Good progress is being made on the implementation of universal banking services, including the card account at the Post Office. The programme is on track to deliver in advance of migration of benefits to ACT in 2003.
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Mr. Timms: As I announced on 15 October, although the outcome of the evaluation of the Your Guide pilot of post offices as Government General Practitioners showed that a publicly funded national Your Guide service would not provide value for money and we therefore decided not to extend it, the pilot did identify opportunities for individual Government Departments to deliver services through post offices in the future. There is also commercial interest in placing kiosks in retail outlets including post offices. It is expected that a commercial kiosk pilot run by E-Daily will start in Cornwall next year and that this will involve a number of post offices. Officials in my Department are in contact with other departments about the potential for using E-Daily as an information channel and I understand that E-Daily is in direct touch with other departments as well as with the National Federation of Sub Postmasters.
Mr. Timms: The universal postal service obligation was laid down in the Postal Services Act 2000 and consists of a service provided at an affordable price determined by a public tariff uniform throughout the United Kingdom. It includes the delivery each working day to the home or premises of every individual in the United Kingdom and a collection each working day from access points, subject to the exceptions to this agreed with Postcomm.
Under section 3 of the Act, it is the primary duty of the Regulator, Postcomm, to maintain the universal postal service. The Government's commitment to that service is consequently enshrined in the Postal Services Act.
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