HC Deb 30 January 1985 vol 72 cc264-5
4. Mr. Brandon-Bravo

asked the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry if he will take steps to educate professional advisers about the help available from his Department to their small business clients.

Mr. Trippier

We are curently sponsoring seminars for professional advisers on the importance of business planning. I am confident that these will prove as popular and successful as our earlier series on Government grants and advisory services and on small firms finance.

Mr. Brandon-Bravo

I thank my hon. Friend and welcome his reply. Can he reassure the House that during the endeavour there will not be too great a shift of finite resources away from direct help to small businesses?

Mr. Trippier

I can certainly give my hon. Friend that assurance. I am anxious to educate, as far as we are able, the professional advisers who act as intermediaries and advise the important people—the small business men.

Mr. MacKenzie

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that the best help that he can give to small firms is to ensure that they obtain orders? If our large companies, whether they are in the public or the private sector, are going bust—and many of them are—then, by definition, the number of orders placed with small firms will be reduced. The best assistance that the hon. Gentleman can give these small firms is to ensure that there is an upsurge of demand by the large companies for the products of small companies.

Mr. Trippier

That certainly has an obvious effect. However, the right hon. Gentleman overlooks the fact that the Government's record on helping small firms is of the highest order. I published some figures not so long ago which showed that there had been a net increase in the number of small firms of some 47,000 in a year — slightly more than double the figure for the year before. That shows clearly that we are on the right track.

Mr. Peter Bruinvels

Will my hon. Friend join me in applauding the work of the small firms centres, and in particular the Nottingham one, which covers the Leicestershire area and the city of Leicester? Will he ensure that those advising and helping — to a large extent from Leicester — are properly updated about all the assistance available for small firms, which represent the future of our country and which will provide real jobs?

Mr. Trippier

I am grateful for the compliments that my hon. Friend has paid to the small firms centres, especially the one in Nottingham. I am certain that the service provided by the inquiry officer and the small firms counsellors in that region is very much appreciated in my hon. Friend's area and in his constituency.

Mr. Meadowcroft

Is the Minister keen for his Department to assist producer co-operatives? Do his officials work closely with local authorities, many of which have done good work in encouraging co-operatives in their areas?

Mr Trippier

We have shown that we are anxious to encourage the growth of co-operatives. The Co-operative Development Agency and Industrial Development Act was passed by Parliament in 1984, and we are keen that the co-operative sector should expand. However, we must recognise that there are little more than 1,000 co-operatives in the country at the moment — we should like to see more — compared with an overall figure of 1.3 million small firms.

Mr. James Lamond

Is the Minister aware that the Government's loan guarantee scheme for small businesses is not working as well as it might? The scheme could be very valuable if everyone who could benefit from it was aware of its existence. Does the Minister know that in the area which he and I represent even some of the banks deny knowledge of the scheme?

Mr. Trippier

That situation has not been brought to my attention. If it is correct, it is extremely worrying. I do not think that the Department has any difficulty in increasing awareness of the scheme. Our difficulty, and my personal embarrassment, has been that the loss rate has been far higher than we expected. I have therefore changed the terms and conditions of the scheme, thereby improving the appraisal and monitoring procedure.

Mr. John Smith

Is not the biggest problem faced by small firms the severe decline in medium-sized and large businesses? Surely the biggest help that the Government could give the small firms would be to find a strategy for the survival and prosperity of manufacturing in this country? Is it not true that the most severe decline has taken place since the present Government took office and that a reversal of that decline is more important than all the schemes in the world?

Mr. Trippier

The right hon. Gentleman's statement reflects the views held by his party when last in government. They took no cognisance of the fact that a greater concentration on small firms — as has been effected by the present Government — would increase employment potential in the larger firms. I find it difficult to imagine that the larger firms would increase their demand on the labour market as much as smaller firms, which have not only wealth-creating potential, but employment potential. It is a matter of balance.

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