HC Deb 05 May 1983 vol 42 cc114-6W
Mr. Murphy

asked the Secretary of State for Industry if he will set out the principal achievements of Her Majesty's Government within his Department's responsibilities since May 1979.

Mr. Patrick Jenkin

The Department of Industry has made good progress in helping to improve the competitiveness and profitability of British industry.

In particular, the Department has made substantial progress in exposing nationalised industries to the forces of competition. British Aerospace, Cable and Wireless, the National Maritime Institute and the Computer-Aided Design Centre have been transferred to the private sector and the Telecommunications Bill now before Parliament will provide for the conversion of BT to a public limited company and the subsequent sale of 51 per cent. of the shares to the public.

The balance of my Department's budget has been shifted towards private enterprise: whereas in 1980–81 70 per cent. was devoted to the public sector and 30 per cent. to the private sector, in 1983–84 39 per cent. is allocated to the public sector and 61 per cent. to the private sector. Management improvements within my Department are in train. 14 specific aims have been identified and publicised and these form the apex of a new management system. This relates all Departmental activities to the 14 aims and introduces some 1,000 operational targets to guide day-to-day work. Since 1 April 1979 staff numbers have been reduced by 1,793 or 19 per cent. and further reductions are planned.

The British Telecommunications Act 1981 has opened parts of the letter monopoly to competition. The Act also enabled private companies, for the first time, to supply a wide range of telecommunications products direct to their customers and to offer, under licence, value added services to BT's network. Europe's first competitive telecommunications network, Mercury, has been licensed. The impact of competition and liberalisation on BT's own services is proving highly beneficial to customers. Jointly with the Home Office, my Department published the White Paper on the "Development of Cable Systems and Services', on 27 April, which looks forward to the establishment of a statutory cable authority and the early development of advanced cable systems in the United Kingdom.

The Iron and Steel Act 1981 removed statutory restrictions on the British Steel Corporation enabling privatisation of BSC. Similarly, the British Shipbuilders Bill, which has successfully completed all stages in Parliament and will receive Royal Assent very shortly permits the privatisation of British Shipbuilders. The NEB and the NRDC, working since 1981 under a common board and the joint name British Technology Group, has sold or disposed of interests in 43 companies and continues to support the transfer of technology from the laboratory to the market, and the start-up and expansion of new, high technology companies.

The Department has actively promoted and encouraged the development of new products and processes. Since May 1979 £750 million has been spent in support of science and technology. Support is given for key technology such as microelectronics, software products, computer-aided design, manufacture and test, robotics, flexible manufacturing systems, fibre-optics and biotechnology. In the field of information technology, the Department has encouraged efficiency and innovation in industry by increasing the awareness and application of the new technology; most notably through the programme of awareness activities associated with Information Technology Year 1982. I announced on 28 April that the Government were prepared to contribute around £200 million towards the £350 million programme of collaborative research on advanced information technology recommended by the Alvey committee.

Virtually all secondary schools have a microcomputer under the micros in schools scheme. Approximately 10,000 schools have applied under the micros in primary schools scheme. We have announced in conjunction with the MSC the esablishment of a network of 150 ITeCs training 5,000 unemployed young people in information technology by the end of this year.

Following the recommendations of the Finniston report of the committee of inquiry into the engineering profession, the Engineering Council has been established.

National selective assistance of £282 million has been given since May 1979 under section 8 of the Industrial Development Act 1982—formerly the Industry Act 1972 — in support of projects which make a significant contribution to the economy.

Assistance to projects in assisted areas under section 7 of the Industrial Development Act 1982 totalling £197 million and regional development grants totalling £1,984 million have been made since May 1979. Industrial development certificates and office development permits have been ended. On 28 June 1982 I announced the final stage of the review of the assisted areas coverage in order to concentrate regional industrial incentives on the areas of greatest need. In order to help and encourage firms in the west midlands to make the fullest use of all national schemes of support for industry, I have set up a team for innovation in the west midlands.

The Government have introduced 108 measures for small businesses to stimulate the flow of finance, to improve incentives, stimulate investment, improve the supply of premises, encourage exports, reduce burdens and provide advice and information. Advisory services for small firms have been extended and the Department's small firms service handled around 230,000 enquiries in 1982. Under the loan guarantee scheme guarantees had been issued by the end of March for over £312 million of bank lending and in the Budget the Chancellor of the Exchequer announced an increase of £300 million in the ceiling for scheme loans. The small engineering firms investment scheme introduced last year to stimulate investment in advanced capital equipment was a resounding success and a new SEFIS with an allocation of £100 million has been launched.

The Department has co-ordinated the major Government initiative to encourage public purchasers to use their purchasing power to help develop the design, technology and competitiveness of their suppliers.

Special support schemes have been introduced for private sector steel, steel-castings, coal-firing and telecommunications products.

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