HC Deb 11 May 1988 vol 133 c307
5. Mr. Forth

To ask the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster what progress he has made in examining the possibilities of using outside agencies to deliver some of the business support services currently provided by his Department.

Mr. Kenneth Clarke

All the consultancy initiatives within the enterprise initiative are administered by outside agencies. Discussions are in hand with the chambers of commerce and other bodies about the delivery of some of the services to exporters. Good progress is being made.

Mr. Forth

I thank my right hon. and learned Friend for his reply. Are there other encouraging signs that the process can be taken further and faster on the basis that advice provided by the private sector can be provided more effectively and flexibly? Will he confirm that the Department of Trade and Industry would receive much better value for taxpayers' money by spending it in that way rather than keeping work in-house?

Mr. Clarke

I agree with my hon. Friend, and that is why the consultancy advice under the enterprise initiative will be given by private sector consultancies. I am glad to say that the number of applications for consultancies means that we are well on target for the 1,000 consultancies a month that we forecast in the White Paper in January. All that consultancy advice will be given by good quality specialists in their respective fields drawn from the private sector.

Mr. Cousins

Does the Minister accept the European Court of Auditors' criticism of the way in which his Department administers consultancy grants in the regions? Will he introduce competitive practices in consultancy and marketing grants to enable small firms to survive in the region against large national accountancy firms?

Mr. Clarke

The report from the European Court of Auditors, which I confess I have not yet studied, will refer to past consultancies which, no doubt, were made available under the business improvement scheme under the auspices of the European Community. No one has had any chance yet to audit the progress that we are making under the enterprise initiative scheme. We are seeking to ensure cost effectiveness, and I am sure that we are achieving that. The response from companies that are seeking consultancy shows that we are providing a service that is welcomed by industry.