HC Deb 17 June 1999 vol 333 cc554-5
11. Mr. John Healey (Wentworth)

What representations he has received on his plans for setting up the Small Business Service. [86502]

The Minister for Small Firms, Trade and Industry (Mr. Michael Wills)

There has been a range of inquiries in response to the initial announcements about the Small Business Service by my right hon. Friends the Chancellor and the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry. I have had meetings with small business organisations and other interested parties. A formal consultation document will be published shortly.

Mr. Healey

Does my hon. Friend accept that there is considerable scope for the use of information and communication technology in improving access to information for small firms? What consideration is he giving to making forms, registration documents and contracts available through the SBS electronically, from day one?

Mr. Wills

I thank my hon. Friend for that important contribution. It is crucial for all small businesses to get hooked up to digital networks as soon as possible. There are enormous advantages in cost and in terms of dealing with bureaucracy, as my hon. Friend suggested. That is why, in the modernising government White Paper, we have suggested a range of initiatives to help small businesses in that way. We have pledged that 25 per cent. of Government services will be available electronically by 2002, and that 100 per cent. will be so available by 2008.

I assure my hon. Friend that we shall continue to make progress on these matters, and that the SBS will be tasked with doing so.