HC Deb 01 November 1999 vol 337 cc26-7W
Mr. Gibb

To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry if he will make a statement on the future of Business Links. [96203]

Ms Hewitt

The Small Business Service will develop a network of local Business Link franchises. Key stakeholders involved in existing Business Link local partnerships will be invited to submit proposals to deliver high quality coherent services under the new franchise arrangements. The number of local Business Link areas will be reduced from 81 to 45.

Mr. Baldry

To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry what criteria will be used in determining Business Link boundaries. [96324]

Ms Hewitt

On 30 June, a public consultation on the Small Business Service was launched. The Small Business Service will be given responsibility for taking forward the Business Link network.

In a letter to RDA Chairs in June, RDAs were asked to consult local partners and make recommendations on the boundaries for local delivery of SBS services. The letter also set out the criteria for determining these boundaries. The underlying principle for determining SBS boundaries was the desire to have no more than 40-50. This would maximise administrative savings and provide a more effective local network for planning, funding, managing and driving up quality, while still ensuring that businesses would have good access locally to business support services.

Specifically, RDAs were asked to ensure that boundaries: fit with local travel-to-work and travel-to-study patterns and with the pattern of business and commercial activities; be co-terminous with the Learning and Skills Council areas and other key local economic or social units and partnerships—especially with local authorities, the sub-regional partnerships set up locally to tackle economic and social issues, and be within RDA/GO boundaries; and be large enough to assure economies of scale and cost effectiveness—a resident population of 0.5 million is considered to be the minimum—although it is expected to be much greater in conurbations.

Ministers subsequently made it clear to RDAs that they wished LSC/SBS boundaries not to cut across LEA boundaries.

Ministers considered RDA recommendations in detail, alongside the criteria set in the letter to RDA Chairs and with advice from the relevant Government Offices. They also considered a number of direct representations from interested parties. The decisions were announced to the House on 28 July 1999, Official Report, columns 936–38.