HC Deb 22 July 1991 vol 195 cc341-2W
Mr. David Shaw

To ask the Secretary of State for Energy 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.

Mr. Wakeham

The Government continue 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.

In developing and implementing my Department's policies, full account is taken of the needs of small businesses. They have benefited from measures to encourage competition and stimulate energy efficiency.

Following the raising of the licensing limits in the Coal Industry Act 1990 there has been an increase in the number of licensed—non-British Coal—opencast sites from 141 to 157 in the 12 months to March 1991, and an increase in the average size from 39,000 tonnes to 68,000 tonnes. The Government have continued to make available funding for British Coal Enterprise Ltd., resulting in a cumulative total of over 70,000 job opportunities, many of which are in small businesses, in 3,184 individual projects—this compares with 61,000 and 2,865 respectively in 1990.

In August 1990, the Department's Offshore Supplies Office launched a one-year scheme to give support of up to 75 per cent. of costs for preliminary research and feasibility studies by small companies aimed at developing new technologies applicable to oil and gas drilling and production.

The new regime for the electricity supply industry is having the effect of opening up the supply of electricity to competition, is giving small businesses a choice of electricity supplier, and is putting downward pressure on the prices they pay.

The Department continues to encourage the use of small firms for departmental purchases of goods and services where this is consistent with obtaining value for money. About 47 per cent. of purchases have been from them in 1990–91, compared with 43 per cent. in 1989–90 and 38 per cent. in 1988–89.