Twelve business link outlets are currently open in the north-west. Approval has been granted for a further nine. Assessment panels will consider further proposals in April, June and September. When the regional network is complete, there will be more than 30 outlets.
Does the right hon. Gentleman agree with the statement that there was greater scope for direction at the earlier stages of the scheme, by his Department? If so, what assessment has he made of the damage that that has done to the potential of the scheme in the north-west? More important, what steps has he taken to correct that weakness?
I explained to the House a few minutes ago that we have tried to preserve a balance between ensuring that quality is consistent across the whole network and ensuring the flexibility that the local partners quite understandably want. I believe that, from all the evidence available to me, we are making good progress in that direction. Recently, I spent a day at a major conference of business link chief executives, and the mood of optimism was extremely encouraging.