HC Deb 24 July 1990 vol 177 cc169-70W
Mr. David Shaw

To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security if he will make a statement on the achievements of(a) his policies and (b) his Department in helping small businesses over the last 12 months as against the previous 12 months; and if he will publish the performance indicators by which his Department monitors those achievements and the statistical results of such monitoring.

Mrs. Gillian Shephard

The Government have continued to place a high priority on helping small businesses, through improvements to the business climate, through deregulation and other measures, and through specific programmes of support and assistance. The success of their policies is demonstrated by the latest statistics which show a record increase in the number of businesses registered for VAT, of 1,700 a week during 1989. Over the decade the overall increase has been 373,000. Specific measures which have been introduced by the Department include(i) We commissioned external consultants in July 1989 to carry out research on employers' reactions to the new literature which had been issued in April 1989 on national insurance contributions (NICs) and statutory sick pay (SSP). The research showed that the new literature was considered a great improvement over the old. Additional ways of improving our communications package were identified and some of the documents were revised accordingly in April 1990. New guidance on statutory maternity pay (SMP) has been produced; a new SMP chapter has been added to the employers' "Quick Guide", which previously contained only SSP and NIC information, and a SMP manual became available in April 1990. A fact card, which explains company directors' NICs in a simple way, was distributed to employers in April 1990. A company directors' NICs booklet which gives detailed guidance on this area has also been produced. (ii) In January 1990 we launched a free seminar service for employers to help them administer SSP and SMP. This was introduced with the small employer particularly in mind and the national extension of this service followed a successful pilot exercise in Scotland. During the period January 1990 to June 1990, 1,228 people attended 103 seminars. (iii) We have commissioned the Institute of Data Processing Management (IDPM) to produce a test pack, for producers of payroll software, to enable them to test the SSP and SMP components against Departmental standards. This is an extension of the IDPM's existing payroll evaluation service and has benefits for software producers and employers alike. Software producers can ensure the accuracy of their product and advertise it accordingly. Employers will be able to purchase, with confidence, software which will greatly assist them in the administration of SSP and SMP. (iv) In November 1989 the Department held the inaugural meeting of the new DSS employers' advisory panel. The panel is made up of small business people, representatives of employers' organisations including the National Federation of Self-Employed and Small Businesses Ltd. and the Association of British Chambers of Commerce, and payroll managers. The panel advises the Department on policy, procedures and communications with business. (v) We give prominence, on our training courses for purchasing staff, to the need to consider using small firms, and give each participant copies of Department of Employment booklets "Think Big Buy Small" and "Tendering For Government Contracts".

We have not designed performance indicators specifically for monitoring achievements in this area but the Department has a system to monitor proposals which impact on business, to ensure that the needs of small businesses are taken into account. We attach particular importance to action taken to help small firms and will continue to explore further ways of doing so.

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