HC Deb 19 December 1984 vol 70 cc285-6
10. Mr. Ashdown

asked the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry what steps he is taking to encourage greater use of official and commercially collected data in connection with the provision of statistics on the small business sector; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. Trippier

The findings of the studies that regularly appear in British Business are that there was a net surplus of 112,000 small businesses over the past four years and that these firms create or preserve more jobs than their share of the labour market suggests. We take every opportunity to publicise these facts.

Mr. Ashdown

I asked whether the Minister would consider greater use of the official statistics. Does he not recall that, at the small business conference in Amsterdam in October this year, he rightly said that reliable and accurate data, which he admitted we did not have, on the life and death cycle of small businesses, are to use his own words, the life blood of governmental policy-making"? In the light of that brave statement, and of his agreement that the official information is inadequate and should be improved, is not his answer somewhat complacent? When will he match that rhetoric with some action?

Mr. Trippier

The stock of reliable statistics is improving all the time, and I referred to that in my substantive answer to the substantive question. I admit that there is a paucity of available statistics for employment in small firms, although that is getting better. For example, we have established that the figure for self-employment is 2.25 million, which is the highest figure on record. My difficulty, as Minister with responsibility for small firms, is that I have to balance on the one hand the paucity of statistics in that particular sector with the fact that I wish to try to reduce the form-filling burden on small firms, which they regard as a handicap.

Mr. Richard Page

Are the collected statistics used by the small firms service? Is my hon. Friend satisfied with the expertise in the breadth, and particularly the depth, of the service that is offered by the small firms service, particularly through the local enterprise agencies?

Mr. Trippier

I have said on the Floor of the House before that I am extremely proud of the expertise in the small firms service. There has been a rapid growth in the local enterprise agencies. There has to be a close relationship between the small firms service and the local enterprise agencies. I have always believed that the directors of the enterprise agencies should be generalists and that the small firms counsellors should be specialists. I am taking steps to ensure that that happens and is successful.