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Business Links

20. Mr. Congdon: To ask the President of the Board of Trade what assessment he has made of the effectiveness of business links. [547]

Mr. Page: The Government have an on-going programme of assessing the effectiveness of business links. This includes regular monitoring returns, measuring the awareness, perceptions, and use of business links by businesses through biannual surveys, and assessing the quality of information and services received by businesses through a mystery shopper exercise. In addition, a series of evaluation projects are being carried out by independent consultants.

On the basis of the evidence provided by these studies, I am satisfied that business links are highly effective in providing integrated, high-quality, business support systems which lead to improved performance by assisted businesses.

Mr. Congdon: Does my hon. Friend agree that businesses are often too busy trying to sell their goods and services to be able to scurry around to different

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organisations to seek advice and that they therefore greatly value the one-stop service provided by business links? Does my hon. Friend share my concern at the recent Select Committee report, which said that, while recognising that business links concentrated on firms with more than 10 employees, more attention should be paid to ensuring that firms with fewer than 10 employees were pointed in the right direction?

Mr. Page: I agree entirely with my hon. Friend that the one-stop shop--the one doorway through which business men and women can go--is the most effective way in which to provide support. In the past, a number of partner organisations tried to do a good job, but they were competing with each other, overlapping in the services they provided and presenting a confused picture to small business men and women.

With business link, we now have one focus, and it is interesting to note that in the short time it has been going, more than 100,000 businesses have used it. The use of business link has doubled since last year and more than 8,200 businesses are using it every single week. It is a success story and it is going the right way.

I am disturbed to hear that the impression has been given that we are not there to help all businesses irrespective of size. My clear message is that business link is there to help any business man or woman, irrespective of the size of company, because from little acorns grow the big oak trees.

Inward Investment

21. Mr. Batiste: To ask the President of the Board of Trade if he will list the figures for inward investment into (a) the United Kingdom, (b) Germany and (c) France for the period since 1991. [549]

Mr. Greg Knight: The most recent information from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development shows that inward investment flows into the United Kingdom in the period from 1991 to 1995 totalled $87.7 billion, compared with $62.3 billion into France and $13.2 billion into Germany.

Mr. Batiste: Is it not clear that Britain not only receives the lion's share of inward investment from Japan, Korea and the United States, but is increasingly getting inward investment from France and Germany as well? Is it not the clearest sign that the Government have got their policies right on the economy, on social costs and on trade union reform when even French and German business men vote with their feet and come to Britain?

Mr. Knight: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. In the period from 1991 to 1993, Germany invested £2.3 billion in the United Kingdom and France invested £2.1 billion.

Mr. Clapham: Is the Minister aware that the American utilities are working with some local government departments to attract inward investment? Georgia Power, for example, working with some of the departments of the state government, attracted 32,000 jobs into the state in 12 months. Will the Minister undertake to look at some of those schemes to see what lessons might be learned for the United Kingdom?

Mr. Knight: The hon. Gentleman makes a valid point, and I am certainly prepared to look at any information he

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pushes my way. We are not doing too badly, are we, with 4,500 US firms located in the United Kingdom, including 99 of the top 100?

Sir Michael Grylls: Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is not just a question of investment? From analysing the figures my right hon. Friend has just given, one sees that jobs are being exported from Germany and France to Great Britain, to the benefit of the British people who are getting extra jobs.

Mr. Knight: My hon. Friend makes his point well. The figures also show that, in Britain, we have a skilled, flexible and positive work force.

Mr. Purchase: Should not the Minister come clean about aggregate investment in those three economies and

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admit that Britain is seriously lagging behind? Should he not disaggregate the figures for inward investment in Britain between mere share churning, takeovers and genuine new money investment? Should he not also tell us the extent of external investment from this country? In 1994-95, it was running at £40 billion, which is more than three times the amount of inward investment.

Mr. Knight: That last comment sums up what is wrong with the Labour party. Britain is a trading nation, and we will always be a trading nation. We will be a successful trading nation so long as we have a Conservative Government.

Points of Order

3.30 pm

Mr. George Robertson (Hamilton): On a point of order, Madam Speaker. May I ask whether you have received a request from the Scottish Office for a Minister to make a statement to the House this afternoon about the severe gales that have affected central Scotland? The gales of 80 mph--in one place they were 95 mph--have left thousands of homes in central Scotland without electricity. Remarkably, Glasgow and Edinburgh airports were closed, as were roads across central Scotland. Substantial damage has been caused, and ferries have been stopped. Buildings have been damaged from Oban to Prestonpans, including in my area.

A Scottish Office Minister has visited two of those locations. Will Ministers come to the House to explain what is happening about damage caused by this natural disaster? Will sympathetic consideration be given by the Scottish Office to those who have been affected personally or whose buildings have been damaged? Will the Government do anything in the short term?

Madam Speaker: I have not been informed that any Minister is seeking to make a statement on that issue today. A Minister from the Scottish Office is sitting on the Government Front Bench, and I am sure that he has taken the hon. Gentleman's point of order to heart.

Mr. Charles Hendry (High Peak): On a point of order, Madam Speaker. As you will be aware, new photocopying paper has been provided in the House that bears the portcullis watermark to prevent an abuse of that stationery. I was concerned, therefore, when I received a copy of a letter printed on that paper, which is headed "North London Young Labour" and says:

It advertises a partisan Labour party meeting, for which the contact is Jake Sumner, who is in the office of the hon. Member for Barking (Ms Hodge), to whom I have written about this matter.

I seek your advice on two counts. First, should not the hon. Lady be representing her constituents, who are in east London and not in a north London borough where she was formerly the leader? Secondly, is not the use of this paper the type of abuse of House of Commons stationery that you are seeking to end?

Madam Speaker: I hope that the hon. Gentleman will let the Serjeant at Arms see the notepaper to which he refers. As to his first question, I am not clear about the boundaries, but the hon. Gentleman has obviously made the point to the hon. Member for Barking in the letter that he has written to her. If he would let the Serjeant at Arms have the copy, I am sure that he will clear up the matter. If there is an abuse, it will have to be paid for: there is no doubt about that.

Mr. Tim Devlin (Stockton, South): On a point of order, Madam Speaker. You will recall that last week I asked a question about the Leader of the Opposition's agent, who had been sending out Labour party literature in paid envelopes. As this disgraceful venture occurred at a high

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level, can you tell me how much money will be paid by the right hon. Gentleman, and how many of those leaflets were sent?

Madam Speaker: That is not a matter for me. I recall very well the hon. Gentleman raising that matter with me last week, and I gave him the right advice. Not only the stationery but the postage will have to be paid for. The Serjeant at Arms will calculate that when he has made his inquiries.

Mr. John Home Robertson (East Lothian): Further to the point of order raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Hamilton (Mr. Robertson), Madam Speaker.

Madam Speaker: Order. I cannot take further points of order on that matter. I realise that the hon. Gentleman represents a Scottish constituency, and he is no doubt concerned about the matter raised by the hon. Member for Hamilton (Mr. Robertson). We cannot go on with such points of order. The hon. Member for Hamilton leads for the Opposition on Scotland, and he has made his point to the House, so we must leave it there. I cannot force a Scottish Minister to come to the Dispatch Box and make a statement now.

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