§ Mr. Eggar
My Department has close ties with the small business sector and since I was appointed Minister for Small Firms last July, I have made it my business to meet a wide range of organisations representing and providing services to small firms.
To assist with small firms development, my Department operates a number of programmes which includes the small firms service which provides a comprehensive information and advice service, as well as particular measures to help ease access to finance. An indication of how these measures have fared over the past 12 months is as follows:
In 1988–89, the small firms service answered over 281,000 inquiries (an increase of 6 per cent. on 1987–88), handled over 30,000 new counselling cases (an increase of 12 per cent. on 1987–88), and conducted over 43,000 counselling sessions (an increase of 10 per cent. on 1987–88);
This year, the number of small businesses to benefit from the loan guarantee scheme which underwrites unsecured loans for small businesses, was 2,292, an increase of 1,058 over the previous year;
In addition, the number of entrants to the Training Agency's enterprise programmes, the business enterprise programme and the enterprise training element of employment training, increased by 22 per cent. from 43,489 in 1987–88 to 53,003 in 1988–89, The number of entrants to the graduate enterprise programme, which helps graduates take the first steps to setting up businesses on their own, rose from 155 in 1987–88 to 1,150 in 1988–89;
My Department also provides financial assistance through the enterprise allowance scheme, and makes substantial grants to Business in the Community, local enterprise agencies and the Prince's Youth Business trust, amongst others.