HC Deb 07 March 2000 vol 345 cc583-4W
Mr. Gareth R. Thomas

To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry what action he has initiated since the publication of the Social Exclusion Unit Policy Action Team 3 report on Enterprise and Social Exclusion (A National Strategy for Neighbourhood Renewal) to improve support for, and to promote, the social enterprise sector; and if he will make a statement. [113451]

Mr. Byers

Since the publication of the Policy Action Team's report on Enterprise and Social Exclusion, my Department has taken a number of steps to improve the support for start-ups and existing small businesses, including social enterprises.

The SBS is currently exploring ways of encouraging Business Links to provide support to social enterprises, for example through: The development of a webpage jointly with the British Bankers Association for business advisers and bankers to widen their understanding of social enterprises and their business needs. This will be linked to BBA website and SBS Gateway. It will be available from the autumn and will be updated regularly. The SBS will be involved in a study trip to Valencia in Spain in April, led by Social Enterprise London, to look at co-operatives and other forms of social enterprises. The SBS will be disseminating the outcome of this work widely. In January this year, I published "The Small Business Service: Summary of Consultation Replies and the Government's Response". One of the overarching aims this set out for the SBS was that it would help promote enterprise across society and particularly in disadvantaged communities.

Entrepreneurs and social enterprises in deprived areas can find it difficult to obtain finance to get their ideas off the ground. We therefore launched the Phoenix Fund in November last year with a key objective to support the provision of community finance. In this context we are working closely with the UK Social Investment Forum and Community Finance Initiatives to design ways in which we can support lending to entrepreneurs and social enterprises in the deprived areas. We hope to be able to announce the form that support will take later in the spring. We will continue to work with banks to highlight social exclusion as an issue and agree new ways forward.

We have contracted with the National Federation of Enterprise Agencies to run a pilot Business Volunteer Mentoring Association scheme until March 2001. This aims to recruit 1,000 volunteers from all sections of the business community, and from a diversity of backgrounds, to provide free mentoring advice to pre and early start up businesses, including from deprived communities. If the pilot is successful, it will be incorporated within the services provided by the Small Business Service.

My Department is also supporting the National Enterprise Campaign, to be launched this spring, which will encourage enterprise and help develop entrepreneurial skills throughout the UK, including the social enterprise sector.

Finally I am pleased to announce that the Prime Minister has agreed that the Minister for Competition and Consumer Affairs will take on additional responsibilities on corporate social responsibility, as recommended by the Policy Action Team. As Minister for Corporate Social Responsibility, he will be seeking to promote the business case for corporate social responsibility and to develop stronger links between different Government Departments' work in this area.