HC Deb 24 July 1996 vol 282 cc495-6W
Mr. David Shaw

To ask the Secretary of State for National Heritage if she will make a statement on the impact of(a) her policies and (b) the work of her Department in helping small businesses in the past 12 months as against the previous 12 months; and if she will publish the performance indicators by which her Department monitors the impact and the statistical results of such monitoring. [39153]

Mr. Sproat

The Government recognise the crucial role played by small firms in the UK economy and aim to help them by providing sound economic conditions— keeping inflation and interest rates low; reducing legislative, administrative and taxation burdens; and where appropriate providing direct assistance in the form of specialist advice and support, and easing access to finance.

My Department has particular interest in the tourism industry. The overwhelming majority of tourism-related businesses are small firms, so the Department's sponsorship support for the industry mainly helps the small firms sector.

My Department has continued to pursue an active sponsorship role in relation to the tourism industry and develop its strategy to assist the industry in improving its competitiveness.

In November 1995, the Department and the English tourist board published "Hotels: The Consumer View", which summarised findings from research into consumer expectations of hotel accommodation. In March 1996, we published "Benchmarking for Smaller Hotels", the outcome of an innovative project to help small hoteliers improve quality, value for money and profitability. Some 50,000 copies of the report and a user-friendly self-assessment test have been disseminated. We will publish the findings of a wide-ranging review of the use of human resources in the tourism industry in the autumn, and with the ETB we have commissioned a study of the domestic tourism market designed to help us determine how the Department and tourist boards can most productively intervene in the future.

The Department has continued to work within the Government to ease the burden of regulation and red tape on the tourism industry. There has been significant progress in this area, with many measures that we have taken benefiting the industry. For example, new risk assessment-based food hygiene regulations came into effect on 15 September 1995. Liquor licensing and Sunday trading restrictions have been relaxed. Revised regulations, significantly widening eligibility for white-on-brown directional road signs to tourist attractions and facilities, came into effect in January 1996. The industry was able to voice its current concerns on regulatory issues at the tourism and hospitality deregulation seminar in Brighton on 15 May 1996. The tourism industry is represented on the permanent deregulation task force. On 14 June 1996, the Department announced the formation of a group of tourism and hospitality experts to complement the work of the Department and the tourist boards in helping to improve the industry's international competitiveness.

The national lottery, which began in November 1994, has also benefited many small businesses; in particular, the thousands of small retailers who sell tickets, and businesses offering ancillary services to the lottery operator. Camelot Group plc's 1995–96 results revealed that a total of £265 million had been paid to retailers in the financial year, an average of £8,750 per outlet.

My Department will continue to work within Government to set the right climate within which small tourism-related businesses can flourish. The Department is represented on the ministerial group on small firms.