Securing a better postal service for deprived urban areas

A GBP15 million fund to help keep post offices open in England's most deprived urban areas, was launched by Regeneration Minister Tony McNulty.

Up to GBP50,000 will be available to sub-postmasters to maintain, modernise and expand their branches, as part of the Government's long-term drive to regenerate impoverished urban communities.

The grant can be spent on new retail facilities, such as bakeries or greengrocers, better security, updated IT equipment, or shop alterations.

Nearly 400 post offices in the 10% most deprived urban wards, without an alternative branch for more than half a mile, will be given priority by the fund.

Tony McNulty said: "Post offices provide vital services for our most deprived estates, where often there is no nearby alternative facility for shopping or banking. As the hub of community life, they play a key role in efforts to include people in neighbourhood renewal.

"But the reality is that many sub-postmasters serving these areas are struggling to stay open. We want to prevent post offices closing in neighbourhoods where they are needed most, as part of our drive to renew deprived urban communities.

"By providing funding to kick-start improvements to branches, sub- postmasters will be able to safeguard their business through expansion and modernisation. This could include adding retail facilities, better security or new IT equipment.

"Today's new fund provides a real way forward for sub-postmasters in deprived urban neighbourhoods. I hope that they grasp this opportunity to maintain such an important community service." Post Office Minister Stephen Timms said: "Post offices are much more than simply providers of mail services.

In many places the post office is also the local shop, community centre, business exchange and bank. This fund will allow hundreds of town post offices to continue to play their vital social role, and is part of the Government's commitment to a modern, and successful post office network." For applications to succeed, sub-postmasters have to show both that the branch is at risk of closure and that the grant will significantly reduce this risk. They will only be able to apply once it has been agreed that they will not be closed under the urban network reinvention scheme.

Business advisors, organised by the National Federation of Sub-Postmasters, will support sub-postmasters, who apply. These business advisors will help the sub- postmaster to put forward a business plan to demonstrate the impact the grant will have on their business.

Notes to Editors

1. A commitment to a fund to safeguard post offices in deprived areas was first announced in the Urban White Paper.

2. For guidance on how to apply for the fund , sub-postmasters should contact the National Federation of Sub-Postmasters on 01273 455196.

3. In the first phase of the fund, from 1 February 2003 to end July 2003, only those in the 10% most deprived wards and over 1/2 mile from another branch will be able to apply. From 1 August 2003 to 31 January 2004 other branches in the 10% most deprived wards may apply and thereafter all branches in the 20% most deprived may apply. Once the Fund is fully spent it will be closed. The dates of the latter phases will be kept under review as experience of running the fund develops.

4. The table below highlights the number and regional locations of post offices in the 10% most deprived wards, with no other Post Office within 1/2 mile.

5. Last month, DTI Secretary of State, Patricia Hewitt announced a GBP450 million fund for rural post offices. The funding, over three years, will safeguard the future of the rural post office network. A total of GBP150 million will be invested in each of the next three years, divided into three main elements: GBP66 million a year to maintain sub- postmasters' income levels; GBP79 million in the first year, and GBP74 million in years two and three, to fund the front line services that allow post offices to operate (including IT systems, cash delivery and delivery of forms and direct marketing material); and a GBP25 million flexible fund: GBP5 million in the first year, rising to GBP10 million in the second and third years, to develop innovative, modern methods of delivering services.

6. Urban reinvention provides up to GBP180m for compensation for closures and GBP30m for investment in branches. The Government funding will support the compensation package negotiated between Post Office Ltd and the National Federation of Sub- Postmasters, and a new investment package to implement the Post Office's restructuring of its urban network.

CONTACT: Public Enquiries, Office of the Deputy Prime Minister Tel: +44 (0)20 7944 4400 WWW: http://www.odpm.gov.uk

M2 Communications Ltd disclaims all liability for information provided within M2 PressWIRE. Data supplied by named party/parties. Further information on M2 PressWIRE can be obtained at http://www.presswire.net on the world wide web. Inquiries to [email protected]

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