HC Deb 04 December 1996 vol 286 cc1030-1
8. Mr. Bellingham

To ask the President of the Board of Trade when he next expects to visit business links in East Anglia to discuss measures to encourage small firms. [5787]

Mr. Page

I have no plans at present to visit business links in East Anglia. However, my right hon. Friend the Minister for Industry was in Norwich on Monday last, when he met very many small business men and several representatives from business link.

Mr. Bellingham

I am grateful to the Minister for that reply. His right hon. Friend the Minister for industry went down very well when he visited Norwich, and I have had good feedback from business link and the local training and enterprise council.

Is the Minister aware that the business link in my constituency, which recently took over from the enterprise agency, has already established itself as an excellent one-stop shop for small and medium-sized businesses? Is he further aware that the link is currently in the process of merging with the local training and enterprise council and the chamber of commerce? Can he assure me that, when such mergers take place, the focus of business links will not be lost? Can he tell me the precise role of business links in reducing unemployment in constituencies like mine?

Mr. Page

The business link in Norwich began a year and a week ago, and I have had reports of significant progress. It will supply the drive to ensure that small businesses in the area operate to the high professional standards necessary to compete in the world's industrialised markets. I know that the business link is working hard to put together a series of packages to identify finance for small firms. I also know that unemployment in my hon. Friend's constituency— I looked it up before I came here—is as low as 5.5 per cent. That is still far too high, of course, and I hope that the business link initiative will bring it down much lower.

Mr. Mackinlay

Is not the problem for small businesses in Norwich, Peterborough, Basildon, Harlow and many other constituencies that. will be in the cockpit at the next general election the fact that far too many people are unemployed and therefore lack the purchasing power to sustain small businesses? Is not the answer to get Britain back to work, so that people have money to spend and can actually pay taxes to fund essential public services as well as purchasing the services and products of small businesses?

Mr. Page

I am glad to note that the hon. Gentleman is such a firm supporter of Conservative party policies. Under this Government unemployment has dropped steadily for the past few years: we are going in a completely different direction from the rest of Europe and I am convinced that it is the small business sector that is driving that success forward. What would kill that sector would be the minimum wage and the social contract that the Labour party wants to impose on small businesses.