Business Link is in the front line, providing real help to business. In the past 12 months, nearly 1 million businesses have used the service, with more than 73,000 receiving intensive support. The latest customer survey shows a 90 per cent. satisfaction level with the service.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend. Business Link has certainly been active, and I have received more positive comments than negative comments about the range and quality of its services. However, one thing that concerns some people is the remoteness of the service since the model changed from a local presence to call centre. Could we not overcome that problem by introducing closer working partnerships between Business Link and business representatives, such as chambers of commerce, the CBI and the Federation of Small Businesses, and delivering more services through such representative bodies?
As my hon. Friend is aware, Business Link is delivered through several different partners, and in the different regions some close working relationships already exist between Business Link and chambers of commerce, in particular. It is important that Business Link is promoted through those chambers. He makes a valid point, however, and the Government are keen to ensure that Business Link gets people out on the ground, visiting companies, attending meetings and promoting its services. That is part of the business strategy of every Business Link service in every region.
I could not agree more with Mr. Kidney, because the regionalisation programme with which the Government persist makes bodies such as Business Link even more remote. We had a perfectly good local model in north Yorkshire, but now it has gone to west Yorkshire. MPs have a role to play, but what is the Minister and his Department doing to promote access to Business Link by small and medium-sized companies at a time of credit crisis?
Whenever there is change, there will inevitably be some noise, but, overall, the changes to the Business Link network have led to greater operational efficiencies and the delivery of a better service to business customers. As I said, the latest customer survey shows a 90 per cent. satisfaction rate, and that is something to be welcomed. It is vital, however, that Business Link continues to engage with the small and medium-sized enterprises to which the hon. Lady refers. It does so through a variety of mechanisms, and I find that, these days, SMEs are well aware of Business Link. Its brand recognition is high and SMEs understand how they can access its services via the Business Link website. Again, however, it is a part of every Business Link service to adopt marketing strategies that promote its services to small and medium-sized companies, and to use intermediaries, such as chambers of commerce.