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South-West Region

Volume 888: debated on Monday 10 March 1975

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asked the Secretary of State for Industry whether he is satisfied that the present extent and character of regional policies take sufficient account of the specific needs of the South-West assisted areas, particularly in respect of the promotion of primary and local craft industries and the problems facing small firms.

Yes, Sir. Substantial assistance is available under the Industry Act 1972 by way of regional development grants and selective financial assistance, and also regional employment premium for manufacturing firms. The Development Commission, through the Council for Small Industries in Rural Areas, provides financial assistance by way of loans and technical and advisory services in rural areas. In addition, my own Department's Small Firms Information Centre in Bristol is available to help small businesses find solutions to their problems.

Does not the Minister agree that the economic structure of the South-West differs in character from that of the other assisted areas and, therefore, that greater flexibility in applying existing regional policies is essential if our specific problems are to be solved? In particular, does he not agree that the Small Firms Assistance Centre should be transferred from Bristol to a site within the assisted area itself, because Bristol is nearer to London than it is to Bodmin?

We have 10 such centres throughout the country, and they are very helpful. We have considered this matter and I am satisfied that this can be done from Bristol at present. In any event, may I say, wearing my hat as someone having responsibility for the Post Office, that a Freephone service is available for any small industrialist who wants to contact the Bristol office? We have not found any difficulties about that so far.

Does the Minister realise that in the South-West the small firms are subcontractors or smaller parts of major industry, and that these are usually the plants that close down first? Will he consider giving more money and greater assistance to COSIRA, to ensure that there is greater investment in the rural areas?

Secondly, I support my hon. Friend for Bodmin (Mr. Hicks), in that the West Country does not consider that the unit in Bristol understands much about the problems of Devon and Cornwall. The Minister would be well advised to have the Small Firms Assistance Centre moved out of Bristol to some area in Somerset, Devon or Cornwall.

We have devoted much thought to the question which would be the best place for the centre. I have been given to understand by those in the area that so far the needs of smaller companies are being met. As regards the hon. Gentleman's question about investment in rural areas, the whole question of COSIRA falls within the purview of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment. We can put this point to him.