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19 Jan 2004 : Column 1038Wcontinued
19 Jan 2004 : Column 1039W
Mr. Stephen O'Brien: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry if she will make a statement on the reasons for her decision not to respond to the debate on the future of the Post Office in Her Majesty's Official Opposition time initiated by the Shadow Secretary of State for Industry, the hon. Member for Eddisbury. 
Ms Hewitt: Even though the debate was on an opposition motion, no Shadow Cabinet Minister was present on the opposition Front Bench, and there was therefore no automatic need for a Secretary of State to be present. On behalf of the Government, my hon. Friend the Minister for Energy, E-Commerce and Postal Services made an excellent speech.
Mr. Stephen O'Brien: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry what assessment she has made of the impact of the £500 annual exemption from the taxable benefit on loaned personal computers introduced in the Finance Act 1999; and what steps are being taken to promote awareness of the exemption. 
The information on which to make an estimate is not available. But on 19 January my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry launched a major campaign, the Home Computing Initiative, to encourage employers to take advantage of this exemption and lend computers to their employees.
Mr. Stephen O'Brien: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry what estimate she has made of the proportion of private sector employees who received computers as a result of employer-provided home computing initiatives in each year since 1997. 
Mr. Timms: Job losses in Royal Mail are an operational matter for the Board of Royal Mail in consultation with the unions. They are regrettable, but the Government accepts that cuts are necessary to stem company losses. The company is committed to achieving this through natural wastage, voluntary redundancy and redeployment of surplus staff within other parts of the business, under an agreement reached with the unions.
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The company is now in year two of its three-year renewal programme to secure the future of the company. Progress is encouraging so far, but there is still some way to go. The Government is looking to the Royal Mail Board to drive through the renewal programme and return the company to profitability.
Mr. Timms: The Government remain fully committed to maintaining a nationwide network of post offices and have invested very substantial sums in supporting the modernisation of the network. I understand that Post Office Ltd. expects to put forward for public consultation its area plan proposals under the urban reinvention programme for Chorley constituency in February or March.
Malcolm Bruce: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry pursuant to the answer given on 8 January 2004, Official Report, column 445W, on post offices, what changes there have been to (a) the number of post offices in each constituency and (b) the number which transact more than 40 per cent. of their work volumes on behalf of the Benefits Agency since 9 January 2003. 
Mr. Timms: Post Office Ltd. updates annually its list by parliamentary constituency of post offices, classified as urban or rural. The most recent list available shows the position as at end April 2003 and a copy is available in the Libraries of the House.
A special exercise was undertaken by the Post Office in 1999 to determine the numbers of post offices in each parliamentary constituency and how many of them derive more than 40 per cent. of their income from benefits work. That information is set out in the reply given to the then hon. Member for Birmingham on 29 November 1999, Official Report, column 22W, and remains the latest information available in
Malcolm Bruce: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry which post office branches in the 20 per cent. most deprived wards in England have (a) been the subject of a closure consultation, (b) had their proposal (i) modified and (ii) withdrawn after public consultation and (c) closed as a result of the Urban Reinvention Programme. 
Mr. Timms: Decisions on post office closure proposals under the urban reinvention programme following public consultation are an operational matter for Post Office Ltd. and I have asked the Chief Executive to reply direct to the hon. Member.
Malcolm Bruce: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry which sub-postmasters of branches in the 20 per cent. most deprived wards in England have (a) applied for compensation to close their business and (b) been successful in their application; and how much has been paid to them to date. 
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Mrs. Calton: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry what definition of contiguous population is used by the Post Office for classification of post offices as urban for the purposes of closure; and if she will make a statement. 
Mr. Timms: The classification of a post office branch as urban or rural is an operational matter for Post Office Ltd. Mapped contiguous built up areas with a population exceeding 10,000 are classified by the company as urban. The company uses a geographical mapping model that enables it to adopt a consistent approach to classification across the country.
Mr. Flook: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry when sub-post offices in Taunton will learn whether they will be considered for closure under the network re-invention programme. 
Annabelle Ewing: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry what representations she has made to the Scottish clearing banks about their participation in the Post Office Universal Bank. 
Mr. Timms: As a result of the Secretary of State's discussions with the clearing banks to set up universal banking at the Post Office, the major financial institutions, including the Scottish clearing banks, agreed to provide access at post offices to their basic bank accounts. Those services were launched on schedule on 1 April 2003.
Access to other current accounts at post offices is a commercial matter between the Post Office and individual banks. It is Post Office Ltd. strategy to increase access to banking services. The Government would urge all banks to provide their customers with access to their accounts through post offices. But the decision to do so rests with the individual institutions.
Mr. Timms: Post Office Ltd. maintain net quarterly closure figures by region/country, not by county and local authority. Decisions on post office closures are an operational matter for Post Office Ltd. and I have asked the Chief Executive to reply direct to the hon. Member.
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To supplement this higher level guidance, the Department has worked closely with RDAs, other Departments and the Office of Project Appraisal Training to produce the "Single Programme Appraisal Guidance". The guidance covers project appraisal and evaluation of completed projects. The appraisal itself must contain an evaluation plan specific to the project, and after the project is completed, the RDA to carry out a formal evaluation and report the results. In addition, DTI has reserved the right to call in any project for post appraisal and implementation monitoring. Now that RDAs have been in operation for four years, significant numbers of projects are entering their evaluation stages.
To ensure compliance with the guidance, each RDA has a project performance and evaluation team of senior officers who are tasked with determining the success of the project, to identify lessons to be incorporated into other projects and to improve processes.
Jacqui Smith: The Regional Development Agencies; funding is tied to a framework of targets relating to their functions, and responsibility for the monitoring and evaluation of progress towards achievement of these targets sits with the Government Office in each region. Their reports provide Ministers with the information required to measure the success and effectiveness of RDAs by assessing their progress towards achievement of targets and delivery of their Regional Economic Strategies and Corporate Plans.
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