§ Dr. Moonie
To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland what steps he is taking to improve the ease of access to innovation support programmes by small and medium-sized enterprises.
§ Mr. Atkins
In 1992 the Government published a regional research and development strategy for Northern Ireland "Innovation 2000". That strategy specifically recognised the need to promote research and development, collaboration and innovation in small to medium sized enterprises (SMEs). Government also established the industrial research and technology unit (IRTU) which provides single door access to an extensive range of support facilities for industry. These facilities include access to the SMART and teaching company schemes, product development programmes and EC support578W mechanisms for SMEs. IRTU also provides technical and scientific support services and delivers a programme of promotional initiatives designed to increase competitiveness and innovation. The recently published IRTU corporate plan emphasises the particular importance of technology transfer, awareness programmes and collaboration at local, national and international level.