HC Deb 03 December 1985 vol 88 cc143-5
7. Mr. Couchman

asked the Paymaster General how many local enterprise agencies are now in operation.

Mr. Trippier

There are 308 local enterprise agencies currently in operation, as recorded by my Department.

Mr. Couchman

I thank my hon. Friend for that answer. Is he aware that his announcement yesterday of the details of the new funding for enterprise agencies will be warmly welcomed by the Medway enterprise agency, which serves my constituency and which, in its four years of existence, has helped to secure or create 2,500 jobs from 630 applications?

Mr. Trippier

That is a truly remarkable record, and I compliment the Medway enterprise agency on what it has achieved thus far. In the two and a half years during which I have been Minister responsible for small firms, I have visited the Medway enterprise agency on three occasions, when I have been impressed with Mr. Guy Sibley, its director, whose enthusiasm is infectious. I am glad to hear that he will welcome our new proposals for further assistance to enterprise agencies.

Mr. Campbell-Savours

May we have an assurance that in the allocation of funds to enterprise agencies there will be no discrimination against agencies that are already successful? Will the Minister undertake to examine the relationship between Department of Employment offices where enterprise allowance arrangements are set up and enterprise agencies to see that they are communicating the names of recipients of enterprise allowances—in other words, to ensure that there is an adequate relationship between the two?

Mr. Trippier

I can give the hon. Gentleman the assurance for which he asks in the second part of that supplementary question. Indeed, I am currently working on a scheme which, I hope, will ensure that enterprise agencies are more involved with enterprise allowance scheme applicants. The hon. Gentleman makes a valid point in the first part of his question. We have said that we shall not be prepared to assist enterprise agencies with incomes in excess of £60,000, taking out any secondees that they may have. We are determined to try to help the smaller enterprise agencies that may have difficulty in attracting private sector finance, and we shall match the funds that they can raise from the private sector up to £20,000.

Mr. Thurnham

Will my hon. Friend commend private sector employers who have funded the Bolton business venture? Will he encourage the Churches to assist in the provision of funds for enterprise agencies in inner city areas?

Mr. Trippier

In answer to the first part of that supplementary question, I am happy to commend and compliment the private sector sponsors of the Bolton business venture. That, too, is a most successful enterprise agency, which is doing an excellent job.

The answer to the second part of the question is that I am keen to encourage the Churches to contribute to enterprise agencies, wherever they may be. There is greater need in the inner city areas, and what my hon. Friend asks would not create a precedent in that a number of enterprise agencies based in the inner cities are helped by various churches.

Mr. Meadowcroft

Will the Minister accept that in Leeds, the work of the West Yorkshire enterprise board is regarded as an important component of the enterprise agency service? Is he aware that there are worries about the future of the enterprise board, and will he say what will happen to this important aspect of the work of the agency after the abolition of the metropolitan county council?

Mr. Trippier

The hon. Gentleman is getting matters a little mixed up. The West Yorkshire enterprise board is not part of the enterprise agency movement. In an earlier debate on small firms I said that the Government have no wish to scrap enterprise boards that have been set up. We are entirely neutral on them. Some of the work that they do is good, although the cost per job created by some of them is remarkably high. The enterprise agency movement is private sector-led, although some local authorities help to sponsor it. The initiative lies with the private sector, and that is why they are successful.

Mr. Bellingham

Is my hon. Friend aware that I have helped to set up a local enterprise agency in north-west Norfolk which, with the backing of local business and the borough council, should be a great success? I hope that it is as successful as the agency in Medway. Does my hon. Friend agree that one way of increasing the effectiveness and job-creating potential of local enterprise agencies is to encourage them to set up local business expansion scheme funds?

Mr. Trippier

The House will wish every possible success to the enterprise agency being set up in my hon. Friend's constituency. Local enterprise agencies have an important role to play as marriage brokers under the business expansion scheme. They can also join together in drawing funds from their community, be it a region or sub-region, for investment in small firms in the area.