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To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry what representations she has received following the cross-cutting review of Government services for small businesses about (a) lack of consumer focus and (b) inefficiency charged to recipients of Government grants through expensive collateral costs, including consultants' and accountants' fees; and if she will make a statement.
I have received many representations from businesses and business representative organisations about improving the customer focus of Government services, in particular by simplifying and improving the accessibility of the support available.
The Department has responded to this customer feedback in a number of ways. For example, following DTI's recent work on its business support portfolio, the range of support available has been rationalised to nine easy to use and easy to access products. Information on the website and in brochures is written in plain English, explaining what the products are and how to access them. Application processes have also been reviewed to make them easier for the customer to comply with. The changes mean that it is no longer necessary for businesses to make use of external professional advice or intervention to apply for and use the business support products.
Responding to concerns expressed by small businesses that they find it difficult to establish their regulatory responsibilities, my Department has published a "No-Nonsense Guide to Government rules and regulations for setting up your business". This brings together in one place, information about all the regulatory requirements applying to start-up and developing businesses.
Working with other Departments, the DTI has also improved the customer focus of its e-services through the launch of the businesslink.gov web portal in April. The site joins up national e-government services for the UK's four million small and medium-sized businesses, providing a single access point to information from all Departments that are important to small businesses, such as the Inland Revenue and the Health and Safety Executive. The site is currently securing about 100,000 visitors each week, and has recently won the International Visual Communication Association's Gold Award for the best website of 2004.