§ Mr. Harvey
To ask the President of the Board of Trade when the lease on the Companies House premises in London is due to expire; what its proposed new location is; how many staff will be employed at the new location and at what cost; and if he will make a statement. 
Mr. John M. Taylor
I have asked the chief executive of Companies House to reply to the hon. Member direct.
Letter from John Holden to Mr. Nick Harvey, dated 25 February 1997:You recently tabled a question regarding the future of Companies House's premises in London. I have been asked to reply to you direct.171WCompanies House's lease on the property in City Road, London has a break at the landlord's option in December 1999. There is a requirement that parties give notice of any intention to break the lease by December 1998. Our present understanding is that the landlord will wish to exercise the break, and that we therefore need to plan to vacate the premises by then. No decisions have yet been made about a new location and the options are being reviewed as part of the planning process. We envisage that there will be at least one site in London which is readily accessible to users of Companies House services.Decisions about premises and staffing are bound up with our plans to move to new, electronic services for our customers which will mean, eventually, that we will not need to accommodate a microfiche library in London. However, we will only take this step once we are confident that we have a satisfactory set of alternative products to offer our customers. We do expect to be in this position before the end of 1999 and that we will therefore occupy a much smaller site in London.There were 72 permanent and 15 casual staff in the London office in March 1996 (full time equivalents); 25 of the permanent staff will reach retirement age between now and the year 2000. Our internal plans, which we have disclosed to staff and are discussing with them, include figures on possible staffing requirements once we have introduced the new technologies. However, these figures are indicative only and may well change as our plans are implemented. Our provisional planning assumption is that there will be a requirement for around 12 staff in London by the year 2000. However, I must stress that it is particularly difficult for me to be precise about the likely impact on staffing and related costs at the London office at this stage, since we have not yet established the nature of the presence which we will need in London beyond the turn of the century. One of the key uncertainties at present is how many users of our services will have switched to the on-line methods of information delivery we will be offering, and will, therefore, not need to make use of a physical presence.If I can be of any further assistance, please do not hesitate to contact me.