COUNCILLORS have pledged to do all they can to help rural shops and pubs stay open.

Following months of detailed reviews, Hambleton District Council has now defined its role in the battle to maintain public services in villages.

A list of recommendations was approved at a meeting of the cabinet, following concerns over the steady decline of rural shops and pubs and their conversion into homes.

"We want to make sure first and foremost that the council takes into account the overall impact on rural communities when considering planning issues that relate to closure," said Cyril Dyke, head of corporate services.

"There are a great deal of issues that the council is now dealing with to encourage these services to keep running.

"One such move is that we are encouraging Business Link - which gives advice to small businesses in a crisis - to play a more proactive role in the future. We want businesses in rural areas to have sound advice and nip any problems in the bud before the threat of closure appears."

The council's initiatives also include adding rural service providers to the list of those entitled to redundant council computers. Determined by application, the PCs will be supplied either for business use or public access to the Internet.

Investigating ways to encourage more residents to use their local post office is also on the council's list of priorities.

Four possible moves are being considered:

* Allowing the public to make payments to the council at the post office

* Urging post office masters to attend parish council liaison meetings in order to encourage support for the local service

* Paying housing benefit electronically through the post office

* Making the post office a point of contact for a council officer.

Sub-postmaster Gillian Billett, of Sutton post office, near Thirsk, said such moves would be very worthwhile.

She said: "We are paid by the volume of customers who come through our doors and so the more the better."