VILLAGE shops and post offices in parts of North Yorkshire could have a better chance of survival if a local authority agrees later this week to improve its support network.

Most councils already offer rate relief to ease the financial problems faced by businesses in remote communities.

More and more have been forced to close, as most of their potential customers opt for the convenience of the supermarkets.

But, for people without transport of their own, the shop is a vital lifeline, and on Thursday Hambleton District Council will be urged to consider a strategy aimed at keeping more of them afloat.

Rate relief is an important aspect of the package, although the council would do more to promote the scheme and keep tabs on how many businesses register.

The authority would also keep records of shop closures and bids for alternative uses for them.

But policy chiefs will also be asked to sanction research into a more pro-active role.

A report tabled on Thursday suggests that more shops and post offices could be pulled back from the brink if new counter services were introduced, including facilities allowing residents to pay their council tax or the council's tenants to pay their rent.

The authority may also add details of village shops and post offices to its own website, encouraging people who live in the area to use them, while making sure the owners are aware of all the other agencies which are available to help them.

The Yorkshire Rural Community Council has already voiced its own concern about the dwindling number of village shops across the region.

Director Ian Strong said: "Although some have closed during the past year, those that have survived have been innovative in delivering a service, marketing and business strategy.

"Others have taken advantage of the Village Shops Development Scheme to upgrade their premises.

"However, there are concerns about post offices, especially as a result of the transfer of benefit payments to banks. Pensions account for 25 per cent of the post office income," he said