HC Deb 03 December 1992 vol 215 cc414-24 4.31 pm
The President of the Board of Trade and Secretary of State for Trade and Industry (Mr. Michael Heseltine)

With permission, I should like to make a statement about a major new strategy to establish one-stop shops for the delivery of business advisory services.

I have been reviewing Government support services for business, in conjunction with a steering group consisting of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Employment, my noble Friend Baroness Denton, the Small Firms Minister, and representatives of chambers of commerce, training and enterprise councils, the Confederation of British Industry, local authorities, the National Training Task Force and Business in the Community.

We have looked particularly at the needs of established small and medium firms. We all wish to ensure that those firms have access to world class support in the areas of information, advice, counselling, development of business skills, exporting, technology transfer, innovation, design and other services.

There are already numerous schemes to help business provided by Government and other organisations. Those schemes are run by a wide variety of bodies. Some are excellent, others less good, but they all suffer from three main weaknesses: first, the profusion of advice of varying quality makes it difficult for business to know what is available and where; secondly, many schemes are narrowly defined and more supplier than customer driven; and thirdly, many businesses which could benefit from the help available are not even aware of its existence. We need to tackle all those problems.

That is why I have decided to establish a number of pilot one-stop shops for business. I have today published a prospectus seeking competitive bids to establish up to 15 such shops in England. I have arranged for a copy to be sent to all hon. Members. Copies will also be available in the Vote Office.

A key aim of the one-stop shops is to simplify the present confusing array of support services. To win, a bid must demonstrate a real and effective partnership to which all the main local providers of business support services are committed. I am asking the training and enterprise councils to draw together bids, but it is a requirement that other key providers, such as the chambers of commerce, enterprise agencies and the local authorities where they are active in support activities, should be fully involved. I am confident that private sector companies will wish to demonstrate their support.

Each bid for a one-stop shop must show how it will provide a wide range of high quality services, both those available locally and, using modern technology, those provided in other parts of the country or even outside this country.

My Department is committed to playing its full part in the one-stop shops. The shops will be the main local point of access to and promotion of all DTI services. I am ready to consider imaginative ideas about how that might be achieved, including proposals for co-location and, subject to any legal constraints, sub-contracting of services.

I cannot anticipate the nature of the bids I shall receive or the scale of the resources that local organisations will offer to put behind them. I can, however, say that I have made provision within my own budget for an initial sum of up to £3.5 million to fund the winning bids in the first year. I look to local contributions to augment that figure. I hope to see a move to a position of self-sufficiency as rapidly as possible.

My Department will also be working with the pilot one-stop shops to develop a new diagnostic service, as promised in our manifesto. That will help businesses to analyse in depth their strengths and weaknesses, and the options open to them, and to identify the help that they need. That will be a new and important service to be provided by one-stop shops.

Bids must be submitted by 29 January. Winners will be announced in mid-March, and the pilots will get under way as soon as possible thereafter. If the pilots are as successful as I expect, it is my intention to develop a national network of one-stop shops across England.

The publication of the one-stop shop prospectus marks an important further step in our long-term strategy to improve the support that we provide to business in this country. We must have a single point of access to services which must be of the highest calibre. One-stop shops will achieve that and pave the way for a radical overhaul of business support arrangements in each area of the country. That will improve the competitiveness of our companies and provide a springboard for the development of our local and national economies.

Mr. Derek Fatchett (Leeds, Central)

In the past 24 hours, Cammell Laird has made 900 people redundant, the Post Office has announced redundancies for 16,000 people, Royal Ordnance have announced redundancies for more than 1,000 people, and Ford is talking about further job losses. The House will be surprised that the President of the Board of Trade made no statement on that further decline in the British manufacturing industry.

There is a widespread recognition of the need to provide more co-ordinated advice to small businesses which frequently, as the President of the Board of Trade rightly said, do not have the time or resources to deal with the range of departments and schemes available from the Government. However, there will be disappointment among business people about the size of the Government's contribution.

Can the President of the Board of Trade clarify his comments that his nationwide scheme will apply only to England? Is it not the intention at a later stage to cover Wales and Scotland? Why are Wales and Scotland excluded at an early stage? Can the President acknowledge that his statement today will offer little immediate help to those small businesses that are faced with punitive interest rates imposed by the banks or to those businesses that face severe cash flow problems because of late payment? Can the President confirm that his statement will offer no help at all to the tens of thousands of small and medium businesses which have already gone to the wall during the recession caused by the Government, and the 120 small businesses which today alone will go bankrupt?

Above all, does the President of the Board of Trade understand that the economic policies of his Government are the root cause of the problems faced by small businesses in Britain? Does he recognise that, when a shipyard such as Cammell Laird on Merseyside or a plant such as British Aerospace in Hatfield closes, or when the Post Office announces 16,000 redundancies, the effects are felt by not only the workers who lose their jobs but by the local small firms which supply those plants and the corner shops which sell to the local families?

Although we welcome today's statement, Labour Members, together with organisations such as the Engineering Employers Federation and many other people outside the House, including the thousands who have lost their jobs today, will wonder why the Government have not made a statement on industrial policy for the manufacturing future of Great Britain. After seven months as President of the Board of Trade, all that the right hon. Gentleman has announced today is a pilot scheme, not an industrial strategy for Britain's future.

Mr. Heseltine

I am sad that the hon. Gentleman should seek to widen the subject of the statement in order to hide what is an overdue Government proposal that will be widely welcomed—but his attitude is characteristic of the Labour party. Of course the news from Cammell Laird is deeply disappointing after so much has been done to try to help that company. I also recognise the concern that has been expressed about the redundancies in the Post Office. However, it is important to state that 170,000 people work for the Post Office. It has been announced today that, over five years, there will be 15,000 fewer jobs—about 3,000 a year, when about 7,000 a year go through natural wastage. The Post Office has made it clear that it expects the redundancies to be voluntary and to come from a process of natural wastage.

To return to the issues in the statement, I do not think that there will be disappointment about the size of the Government's contribution. I think that the figure of 15 shops announced today is of the order of magnitude expected by those with whom I have discussed the matter. It forms the basis to which others, locally, will add the resources at their command and make imaginative bids within the process that I have outlined.

The hon. Gentleman's question about Scotland and Wales is properly a matter for my right hon. Friends the Secretaries of State for Scotland and for Wales, who are interested in and fully informed about today's announcement. However, they have a different—some would argue, a more co-ordinated—set of arrangements, originally based on the proposals of the Scottish and Welsh Development Agencies. Therefore, they have not had to deal with the problem that I faced due to the unco-ordinated approach that had been taken to the issues.

The hon. Gentleman asked about the small industrial sector. He failed to say that Barclays bank estimates that, in the first three quarters of 1992, there were more than 300,000 new starts in that sector.

Sir Michael Grylls (Surrey, North-West)

Does my right hon. Friend accept that most people, listening to today's statement in a less jaundiced way than the Opposition, will welcome it as a progressive move that will improve the flow of information that is so vital for the success of small and medium firms, which are expanding rapidly despite the recession? As my right hon. Friend acknowledged, the provision of export information is important. About 70 per cent. of smaller firms do not export, and with the arrival of the internal market, it is vital that more small firms should be able to export. The provision of proper information near the place of work, perhaps through computer terminals, could be useful and improve the number of exports.

Mr. Heseltine

No one knows more about the problems of small firms than my hon. Friend. He has drawn our attention to important aspects of our proposals. Of course it is important to improve the quality of export advice available, which is certainly at the forefront of our intentions. We hope to do so by improving the quality of staff available and the access to databases nationally and internationally.

I understand my hon. Friend's view that not enough small firms export. A significant number of small firms are not, perhaps, aware of how many of their products find their way into the export market through the clients to whom they provide the products. My hon. Friend will also be aware that I have invited 100 of our largest companies to second to my Department a member of staff with experience in exports in order significantly to enhance our export drive, which is so timely in view of the competitive value of our currency.

Mr. Paul Tyler (North Cornwall)

Is the President aware that Liberal Democrats genuinely congratulate him on the initiative, not least because it contains the idea of one-stop advice shops, which featured in our manifesto, but not the Conservative party's? However, we are concerned that the limited number of pilots may not lead on to the necessary network throughout the country. Will the right hon. Gentleman ensure that the pilots are geographically spread to represent regions of high unemployment and high business failures, such as the south-west, particularly Cornwall? In what sort of areas does he anticipate placing the pilots—regions with assisted area status or shire counties? Will they necessarily be the same size as the districts covered by the training and enterprise councils?

The timing is important, as a review of the assisted area status and geography is currently under way, and local government reorganisation is under review. Can we be assured in the House that, as soon as the evidence of the hoped-for success of the pilots is available, it will be fed into the processes of the assisted area and local government reorganisation reviews?

Mr. Heseltine

I am very aware that a proposal along similar lines to the one that I announced today featured in the Liberal Democrat manifesto, a copy of which I have in front of me. I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for welcoming the initiative, and glad that it will make it easier for him to vote for the Conservative party in the next election.

The hon. Gentleman asked interesting questions about how the judgments will be made. The choice of pilot schemes will be made as a result of competitive bids, and the test will be one of quality, not regional policy or high unemployment. It is critical that the 15 are seen as pace setters, even if that results in districts that might have the most immediate need having to wait for a period in order to follow the quality. We do not want to take inadequate standards from districts with pressing needs and so debase the process. I assure the hon. Gentleman that the purpose of the competition is to show the standards that can be achieved and to initiate one-stop shops where people come forward with the most impressive schemes. That is our intention, which we hope to fulfil in the early part of next year.

Sir Peter Emery (Honiton)

I congratulate my right hon. Friend, and I think that the rather mean welcome from the Opposition does them no credit, and it seems odd, as they say that they want to help small businesses. My right hon. Friend will realise that small businesses in the south-west have probably been more adversely affected than those anywhere else. My right hon. Friend spoke of the siting of the pilots based purely on quality. Will he ensure that his Department sets out ideal specifications so that those tendering bids have an idea of the quality required to enable them to ensure that Plymouth, Exeter and Bristol or wherever are able to obtain the quality necessary? It is important that we do not consider that Bristol is able to cope with the south-west, when it is further away from most of the south-west than it is from London. There is a need for geographical consideration when making judgments.

Mr. Heseltine

I very much respect the voice that my hon. Friend brings to the cause of small businesses generally, and particularly in the south-west. The House will appreciate that, whenever one launches a scheme designed to reflect local needs, there is always a temptation for people to say, "Lay down centrally what you think should happen." We very much want to avoid taking a prescriptive approach, see what local people want, and allow them to set standards and come forward with ideas.

I have tried to avoid taking an over-centralist approach, which means that I am reliant on the quality of local initiative. Therefore, once the process is under way, I must not become too institutionalised about the way in which the results are spread, as that might mean that we make choices not based on quality but to suit a pattern of regional disposition.

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover)

Is the Minister aware that I have never heard so much flannel in my life? The Government are capable of trotting out a load of baloney, day in and day out. There are 4 million people on the dole according to the real figures, when the kids on slave labour schemes are added. There is a £14 billion balance of payments deficit. Manufacturing industry is going down the pan. He comes here talking about setting up advice shops. I have some advice for the Government—"Shut up your shop and let somebody else take it over."

Mr. Heseltine

I just have this to say to the hon. Gentleman: if he has never heard so much flannel, it would be simple for him to go to the Library of the House and get recordings of his endless, repetitive and tedious interventions day after day after day.

Mr. Richard Tracey (Surbiton)

Unlike the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner), many hon. Members will thank my right hon. Friend for what he has announced. Nine years ago, in my area of Kingston upon Thames, I was involved in setting up exactly the sort of thing that he is talking about; it was called the Kingston small business advice service. It has prospered and grown and has worked with the local authority and with our TEC, AZTEC, which covers Kingston, Merton and Wandsworth. Recently, it has done excellent work at the British Aerospace works in Richmond road, Kingston, which closed down. May I recommend it to him as one of the pilots? May I suggest that he involves the academic and university world too? We involved the former Kingston polytechnic, now Kingston university, and the regional management centre. We found that they have a great deal to offer.

Mr. Heseltine

I am very much aware of my hon. Friend's long-standing interest in the whole subject. It sounds as though we may have a competitive bid, based on considerable experience, from Kingston. I heard what my hon. Friend said about the involvement of the academic world. It is up to local initiative to determine the extent to which it draws together the academic opportunities and advice that are available. That is very much up to those who are formulating competitive bids.

Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow)

Had they been in existence, what assistance would one-stop shops have been to the three directors of Matrix Churchill who faced a prison sentence? Would the management of one-stop shops have been knowledgeable enough about the facts that were known to the noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne, in his department, to the right hon. Member for Bristol, West (Mr. Waldegrave) in the Foreign Office and to the Minister of State who is sitting beside him, the right hon. Member for Hove (Mr. Sainsbury)?

What advice will one-stop shops dealing with some of the firms that export the most sensitive armaments and armament-making machinery give to anybody exporting arms, for example, to Iran? Will they be briefed in such a way that never again can there be a repetition of the disgraceful episode involving many civil servants and ministers who had read the papers and who knew that those three directors of Matrix Churchill were not themselves responsible for that for which they faced trial?

Mr. Heseltine

I have listened carefully to what the hon. Gentleman has had to say. I will make it my personal responsibility to see that Lord Justice Scott is fully apprised of the interest which the hon. Gentleman expressed in linking the initiative of one-stop shops with the Matrix Churchill affair. If the whole concept is as improbable to Lord Justice Scott as it is to me, I will give the hon. Gentleman a further assurance: I will refer the whole matter to my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Defence to see whether he can find some equally improbable link with the sinking of the Belgrano.

Mr. James Hill (Southampton, Test)

My right hon. Friend will be aware of the importance of my constituency, Southampton, in the export trade. For a long time, the local chamber of commerce, which is very active, has been co-operating not only with the local council but with the local newspaper and various people in the area who deal with the accountancy work of export. No doubt, a proposition for funding will be put forward from my area. I hope that the golden opportunity to make an application will be taken up because the geographical position of Southampton would no doubt entitle it to be one of the 15 pilots.

Mr. Heseltine

I know that my hon. Friend will use his considerable endeavours to persuade his local industrial and commercial community to respond to the initiative. I hope that he will make the point that it will not be the regional location of Southampton which will play a role in the judgment that we reach but the quality of the bid that is put forward. I look forward to seeing a bid.

Mr. D. N. Campbell-Savours (Workington)

I have looked forward to the statement of the President of the Board of Trade, and I support the proposition that he has put before the House. In a small way it is an important initiative. Cumbria TEC will bid for a one-stop shop. We intend to win and we will make it successful in exactly the same way as we made the enterprise zone successful in the early 1980s. All we have to do is win the competition.

Mr. Heseltine

I thank the hon. Gentleman for a wholly constructive view. I make no secret of the fact that it was precisely because he approached the issue of an enterprise zone in Cumbria in that manner, and with enthusiastic endorsement, in the early 1980s that he helped persuade me that there should be an enterprise zone in that part of the world. I believe that it has been a great success. Without wishing to be partisan, I would only say that if his hon. Friends were to adopt as constructive a view to the policies on offer, they might find that their areas gained a great deal more than they do as a result of the somewhat daunting interventions of his hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner).

Mr. Bernard Jenkin (Colchester, North)

I welcome the statement of my right hon. Friend, particularly on behalf of the businesses and people of my constituency. Does he recall that there was recently a successful DTI one-day export initiative, arranged in conjunction with the local chamber of commerce, to which DTI officials had to come from outside the county, thereby demonstrating the need for our own one-stop shop? Will my right hon. Friend enlarge on the criteria which will be used to assess quality so that we may submit a bid for a pilot scheme?

Mr. Heseltine

I am most grateful to my hon. Friend. He raises an important point which is of concern to us in government—that, so often with these initiatives, civil servants from regional offices or from central Government have to go to local areas to promote activities which it would be far more desirable to see initiated, promoted and managed by local people.

As to the precise ideas that are involved, they are obviously substantial. Large numbers of organisations provide many and varied services. It is precisely because I want all hon. Members to understand the nature of the opportunity that I have taken the liberty of sending them directly their own personal copy of the prospectus that I have announced today.

Mr. Bob Cryer (Bradford, South)

Will the Secretary of State accept that the initiative will not stop the haemorrhage of jobs and that small firms in the main depend on large firms which under the Government are going bust in considerable numbers? Will he accept that the Labour Government, which experienced unemployment of one third the current level of nearly 4 million, established one-stop shops for small businesses—the small firms information centres, which had a common logo and identity throughout the country?

That Government also established small firms counselling schemes, which used experienced business men and women to advise businesses on how to develop. In his scheme, surely there should be some regard to unemployment and to the areas which need most assistance. Is it true that he could award three or four contracts to the same area, which would be absurd when another area in much greater need failed the competition?

May I ask the Secretary of State about self-sufficiency? Under the Labour Government, the first counselling session was free, and there was free access to the service of the Small Firms Advisory Bureau. Will that be the case under his scheme, or will the charges which produce self-sufficiency mean that small businesses will be unable to afford to use them?

Mr. Heseltine

I am interested to hear the hon. Member for Bradford, South (Mr. Cryer) say that the things that I have announced this afternoon were already in practice under the last Labour Government. I find that mildly surprising, as the last Labour party manifesto included a commitment to do many of the things that I have announced this afternoon, making it quite apparent to me that they did not exist on the scale and with the degree of coherence that I have announced. They were never one-stop shops on the basis that I have announced this afternoon.

The loss of jobs, the recession that we face and the consequences for large and small companies are not things that have flowed from the policies of this Government; they are a consequence of the most severe and prolonged world recession that we have seen, one which is affecting the capitalist world across the globe. It serves no purpose, in trying to understand how we cope with the problems, to try to pretend that somehow or other the solution of these problems is in the hands of any one government.

I will not be persuaded to try to adopt a process of allocating these schemes as a result of the competition in a way that reflects what is called broadly fairness across the country, because the consequences of doing so is to decide the winners, not on the basis of the quality of the scheme but on other factors. When the hon. Gentleman says, "But shouldn't it be done on the basis of need?", I very much agree with the thinking behind that, but one may well address the need more urgently and realistically by waiting a little and allowing the quality that can be achieved to be demonstrated elsewhere before one addresses the need in the areas where it is greatest. That is why I am preoccupied with ensuring that it is the quality of the scheme that is the determining factor and not other issues of the sort that the hon. Gentleman has drawn to our attention.

Mr. Cryer

What about cost?

Mr. Heseltine

As to cost, we have found that, where charges are made for services, they have not been a deterrent for companies taking them up. Companies are used to buying a service that is of quality, and the test is often not whether it is free, but whether it is good. If it is good, companies will pay for it. As for helping companies, as hon. Members know, we have a consultancy scheme which has been a significant success and to which companies contribute. I am looking at whether we can continue with that scheme and, if so, on what terms. The fact is, however, that payment has not been a deterrent to the success of the scheme but its desirable quality which has made the scheme a success.

Mr. Richard Spring (Bury St. Edmunds)

May I congratulate my right hon. Friend on his most welcome announcement today? The Suffolk TEC will be submitting a bid on behalf of the community of Bury St. Edmunds. The local business community is very much behind the scheme and very supportive. Will my right hon. Friend, however, give an assurance that, in the provision of the database, there will be adequate information, particularly on the availability of British goods and services?

Mr. Heseltine

My hon. Friend is reflecting the clear indication which has developed in the course of questions on my statement that we will have a significant number of bids, and I am delighted to hear that the Suffolk TEC is helping to co-ordinate that from Bury St. Edmunds.

An attempt now to demarcate British goods is out of keeping with the fact that as from 1 January 1993 we are moving to a single market. It is very important, as I am sure both my hon. Friend and the whole House will agree, that we persuade British industry very rapidly to adjust its thinking to that of a manufacturer or a provider of service in the whole of the single market and not just in the British sector of it.

Mr. Peter Hain (Neath)

I welcome the President's statement, but I ask him to refer to the Secretary of State for Wales consideration of the Neath Development Partnership as a pilot project in Wales.

May I also remind the President that over 19,000 small businesses are small post offices? Why, in addition to making his statement on one-stop shops, did he not have the courage to come to the House and say that he supported the colossal loss of jobs in the Post Office, which will directly limit the ability of local post offices and the small businesses running them to do their jobs properly? Is this not a precursor of privatisation? Why has he flouted the authority of the House by allowing this announcement to be made before he has completed the review that he announced in July?

Mr. Heseltine

I have long admired the work that has been done in Wales in providing a more co-ordinated approach to many of the policies discussed this afternoon. It is because my right hon. Friends the Secretaries of State for Scotland and for Wales have, within their overall responsibilities, a much more flexible way of handling many of these policies that they have not felt it necessary to move in the way that I have with my announcement this afternoon. That is not to say that they are not interested in what has happened. They have looked very carefully at the proposals, and I have no doubt that if they see advantage in them they will themselves seek to adapt them to the interests of their territorial responsibilities.

I have, I think, dealt with the issue of the Post Office. The Post Office has not announced that a significant number of people will be made redundant: it has announced its employment profile over the next five years and has clearly indicated that it does not expect to see compulsory redundancies; it simply expects that, of those who naturally leave the Post Office, some 7,000 a year, not all will be replaced. The reason is that the Post Office is seeking to maintain its reputation for excellence and is mechanising its services, as it is now able to do, in order to improve and maintain them. This means that, on average, over the five years 3,000 jobs will not be replaced. That is very different from suggesting that the Post Office has announced 15,000 redundancies——

Mr. Hain

Nineteen thousand.

Mr. Heseltine

Nineteen thousand.

Mr. Gary Streeter (Plymouth, Sutton)

I thank my right hon. Friend for his excellent statement, which will be widely welcomed by the business community in Plymouth. I would like to encourage him not to listen too carefully to some of the moaning minnies on the Opposition Benches who rejoice in bad news and cannot stomach good news. Can he confirm that the coming of the single market on 1 January 1993, to which he has already referred, will be a significant boost to our own businesses to enable them to compete with our rivals, both in Europe and elsewhere in the world?

Mr. Heseltine

I am most grateful to my hon. Friend. I know very well the area that he represents today. I believe that what we have announced is designed to improve the quality of service to British companies, companies operating in this country. The services that they now receive are often good, but one of the issues that emerged from the research that I did on taking this job was that only 40 per cent. of companies took advantage of the services provided by the chambers of commerce, the Confederation of British Industry and the Department of Trade and Industry. That means that some 60 per cent., albeit many of them smaller companies, do not take advantage of them, either because they do not know of the services or because they do not believe them to be any good.

There is therefore a considerable responsibility on all of us who are responsible for these services to ensure that the customer—in this case, the customer who is not taking advantage of our services—is listened to and consulted, and we must tailor our services to meet his needs. That we intend to do in a much more proactive way, with a much higher quality and better co-ordination of our services.

Mr. Patrick Nicholls (Teignbridge)

This is a very worthwhile initiative, and it will take someone who is uniquely ignorant of the needs of small businesses to dismiss it as an irrelevance. A number of local authorities, of which Teignbridge district council is one, have a very good track record in promoting particular initiatives to increase employment. Will my right hon. Friend say what role local authorities like that will have? Much of the expertise in knowing what is available to small businesses will lie in Departments of State and, in particular, in my right hon. Friend's own Department of Trade and Industry. How will pilots be able to bring forward proposals which might incorporate civil servants who have that particular expertise?

Mr. Heseltine

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising two very important issues.

I am fully aware that there are local authorities which have been drawing very much closer to the wealth-creating sector. A principal reason for this is that Government policy has given them every incentive to do so; with the use of schemes such as city grant and city challenge, a partnership has been been fused between local wealth-creating and local bureaucratic services, greatly to the benefit of both.

The scheme is based on exactly the same philosophical approach to try to give local authorities and the wealth-creating sector every incentive to come together to prepare the best services possible to meet local needs. It is for them to decide how the services that they provide can be fitted into the concept of a one-stop shop.

My Department provides many services on a regional basis, which may therefore be too remote from the customer's immediate needs. I intend to leave the initiative to explore how the departmental services can best be tailored into the competition to those participating in the competition. As can be seen from the prospectus, I have instructed officials in my Department that they are to be constructive and co-operative and must allow the private sector and local authorities to explore how they can sub-contract, provide locally or collocate the services of the DTI wherever legally possible. We are in an exploratory stage, in which there is a great deal of opportunity and from which we all have much to learn.

Mr. Jim Cousins (Newcastle upon Tyne, Central)

The President of the Board of Trade has pledged a universal and comprehensive service, but he has committed the resources and cash for only a single year's experiment. How fast does he expect the scheme to expand? Where will the money come from, apart from charges on small businesses, as he made clear in an answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Bradford, South (Mr. Cryer)?

Mr. Heseltine

I can give an indication to the House and share my preliminary views—it is important that I do so—but this is an experiment. Within my budget, I have significant resources available for the support of small and medium enterprise. I expect an increasing part of that to be used year by year to extend the range of small one-stop shops if they are successful. The rate at which we do that can be explored in the light of the response.

All hon. Members will have been impressed by a clear theme that has emerged from this afternoon's statement, which is the number of bids that we shall get from all round the country. The training and enterprise councils are now hard at work in mobilising resources locally. hope—I can but express it as a hope—that, when the first 15 have been chosen and the first tranche of public money is available to support them, a significant number of other bidders will say, "We don't wish to wait for the second or third competition: this is an idea whose time has come," and they will then make progress. It is well within their ability to do so, because revenues are available to the chambers, local authorities have the capacity to support them if necessary, and private companies can contribute additional cash.

All those opportunities exist. We shall see how it goes, but my present intention is to announce 15 pilot schemes by the early part of next year and then extend the opportunity on a second and third-year basis, provided that there is support from within my Department.

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