I thank my right hon. Friend for those figures. Is he aware that not only has Business in the Community helped to set up many successful small businesses, but that it has helped to prevent one or two ill-conceived ventures from going ahead, thus avoiding the pain and the distress that would have been caused when the crunch eventually came? May I ask my right hon. Friend to build upon that success by asking the British Overseas Trade Board to liaise more closely with local enterprise agencies in order to encourage the enterprising smaller firms to become more involved in exports?
Certainly. My hon. Friend has made two good points. The Department's regional offices cover BOTB regional services. They have, of late, been increasing their links with the local enterprise agencies, and we have encouraged them to use the whole of the Department's services. We have also been making presentations on exporting to local enterprise agencies and to other organisations gathering small firms together. That is why, I think, some 75 per cent, of BOTB users are, indeed, small firms.
I should be happy if local enterprise agencies were formed in such areas. The concept of the local enterprise agency is that it should be a community, and predominently private-sector, based organisation, although of course a good deal of the funding comes from local authorities and central Government. In addition to my Department's spending, the Department of the Environment contributed £843,000 last year through the urban programme, while the Development Commission contributed £12,000. The Welsh Office contributed £150,000 through the urban aid scheme and the Welsh Development Agency contributed £34,000. Furthermore, the Scottish Development Agency has contributed £280,000. In several areas where there are problems associated with pit closures, funding is clearly therefore available for local enterprise agencies. I hope that some of them will be of help to those setting up in business in such areas.
Is my right hon. Friend aware that in its first 18 months of operation Business Initiatives Carlisle, a local enterprise agency, helped to create more than 100 small businesses with more than 200 jobs? Does he agree that although his investment of £175,000 in local enterprise agencies is most welcome, it is desirable to give yet more resources to such agencies, because helping successful organisations, such as BIC, is one of the best investments for creating jobs that the Department can make?
I appreciate my hon. Friend's comments. However, one of the keys to the success of local enterprise agencies is that they have not become the mere creatures of Government but have very live and valuable support from local industry. It is local industry that benefits most from supporting other parts of local industry. Therefore, it is essential to ensure that funding is predominantly of a local nature.
Mr. Wriggles worth:
I welcome the Secretary of State's support for Business in the Community and local enterprise agencies, but will he say something about the future of the Department's small firms service? Is he aware that many small businesses welcome the service provided by his Department? Has the right hon. Gentleman any plans to pass it over to the agency or to other parts of the private sector, or to close it?
The Department is extremely interested in continuing with its support for small businesses. That is, not least, why we are very active in pursuing policies that are directed towards removing the burdens of Government from small businesses. That is something that is best done through the Government, not through any other agency. Thus, whatever happens, we will remain extremely active in our support for small businesses.