HC Deb 18 October 1994 vol 248 cc186-7W
Mr. David Shaw

To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if she will make a statement on the achievements of(a) her policies and (b) her Department in helping small businesses over the last 12 months as against the previous 12 months; if she will publish the performance indicators by which her Department monitors those achievements and the statistical results of such monitoring; and if she will set out her targets to help small businesses in the next year.

Mr. Jack

The Government recognise the crucial role played by small firms in the United Kingdom economy. Government help small firms by keeping inflation and interest rates low and by reducing legislation and administrative burdens. They also provide direct assistance where appropriate and are currently establishing a network of business links to provide high quality business support across the country.

This Department has continued to contribute significantly to the process. For example: i) the new marketing development scheme, providing £10 million over the next three years, will assist the marketing effort of all those in the food chain including individual farmers or collaborative groups. ii) MAFF's market task force engages in a number of initiatives offering marketing help to business: the processing and marketing grant, with its requirement that farmers must share in the economic benefits, was reopened for applications on 18 October; the task force also runs seminars to stimulate marketing thinking in individual sectors and stands ready to discuss ideas for developing the marketing performance of anyone's business; iii) a MAFF guide, "Success With a Small Food Business", has been issued to help small food producers to set up and develop their businesses; iv) MAFF, through "Food From Britain", continues to provide advice and assistance to groups of speciality food producers. "Food From Britain" also provides export advice and assistance for the food industry, particularly small and medium-sized enterprises; v) "The Continental Challenge", a major initiative we ran in January this year, highlighted opportunities for United Kingdom suppliers to exploit continental retail outlets. A wide range of companies participated and "Food From Britain" has been maintaining the momentum generated. vi) I chaired a seminar with representatives of the fishing industry to discuss the problems of supply and demand in the market. We have also encouraged complementary initiatives by the Sea Fish Industry Authority to improve the marketing of fish, which would be of considerable benefit to the many small firms in the industry. These have included their conference on "Catching for the Market" and the subsequent establishment of a task force; vii) an amendment to The Corn Returns Act 1882 is proposed which will exempt businesses purchasing small annual tonnages of British cereals direct from growers from the duty of having to make a return; viii) an organic aid scheme was launched in England on 1 July to encourage conversion to organic farming methods. This is likely to be of interest to many small farmers. The rates of aid are structured so as to assist the small producer by giving an extra £30 per hectare per year for the first five hectares. ix) meetings with panels of small businessmen continued to be held to enable Ministers to hear at first hand the views of small businessmen on the regulatory burden.

All the schemes operated by this Department are closely monitored. New schemes will be announced as they emerge. Reports on particular schemes are published from time to time.