HC Deb 25 June 1992 vol 210 cc375-6
6. Mr. Deva

To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland how many inquiries the local enterprise development unit had in 1991 regarding business start-up and related matters.

The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office (Mr. Robert Atkins)

A total of 6,833.

Mr. Deva

Does not that demonstrate clearly and without a shadow of doubt that Government support for small businesses in the Province remains strong?

Mr. Atkins

Of course—the Government in Northern Ireland is no different from the Government in any other part of the United Kingdom in terms of their commitment to small businesses, and I can confirm to my hon. Friend that the position will remain the same so long as I am doing this job.

Mr. John D. Taylor

Is the Minister aware that most people in Northern Ireland want encouragement to be given to small and medium-sized companies, but that what is important is not just the number of applications but the number which are efficiently dealt with by the Local Enterprise Development Unit? Is he aware that there is increasing concern about LEDU's delays in processing applications and that small businesses are deciding not to bother to make submissions to LEDU but to go ahead without support?

Mr. Atkins

With a new chairman and a new Minister, it is the intention that any problems that have arisen will be dealt with. That is not to suggest that my hon. Friend the Member for Wiltshire, North (Mr. Needham) was anything other than extremely successful in his tenure of office. If the right hon. Gentleman has particular points in mind that he wishes me to address, I should be grateful if he would write to me.

Mr. Bellingham

My hon. Friend the Minister will be aware that there are still fewer people employed in the small firms sector of the Province than is the case in other parts of the Kingdom. Does he agree that one of the best ways to break down sectarian barriers is to encourage enterprise, initiative and entrepreneurs? What steps will he take to reduce dependency on the public sector in Ulster?

Mr. Atkins

My hon. Friend makes an entirely fair point. Clearly there is always a need to consider how we reduce support from Government. That can come about only if there are more and more successful companies and, of course, successful companies have small beginnings. I want to take away the drip feed system to which my hon. Friend refers as soon as is realistically possible. That would represent an amazing success story for Northern Ireland, but I suspect that it will be some time before that can happen. However, I am conscious of my hon. Friend's interest and of the pressure that he will bring to bear in that regard.