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In a radical new approach to government support for business, two new challenges, providing funding for the best lo...
In a radical new approach to government support for business, two new challenges, providing funding for the best local and sectoral business support, were announced by board of trade president Ian Lang today.

He also set out plans for a significant streamlining of department of trade and industry help for companies - particularly smaller firms. It follows a cross-government review and wide-ranging consultation.

Key elements of the announcement include:

-- a local challenge, calling for the most imaginative, effective and customer-focused projects to help smaller firms in the English regions

-- a sector challenge to fund projects which help whole industries - from advanced robotics to textiles

-- reducing the number of separate DTI programmes to help firms from 140 to 25 or fewer and making them more and more accessible through the nation-wide network of Business Links

Mr Lang told parliament:

'We are today launching two new challenges. I am also confirming a major simplification of central schemes.

'Both challenges are designed to enhance the competitiveness of businesses, either through helping local partnerships to design and deliver high quality business support to firms - particularly smaller firms in their area - or through projects to improve the business performance of specific sectors of industry.

'The local challenge will build on Business Link partnerships. It will reinforce the opportunities offered to small firms to access support in the co-ordinated way that these partnerships provide. It will encourage cross-partnership bids where these add value.

'The sector challenge will bring together in one place the majority of government funding for sectoral activity. It covers activities designed to have a broad impact on the competitiveness of sectors wherever they are located in the United Kingdom, including innovative approaches to export promotion.

'A radical streamlining of DTI business support will reduce the number of separate schemes from 140 to fewer than 25 central programmes plus the two new challenges. Further announcements in the coming weeks will set out in more detail our plans on specific schemes aimed at helping smaller firms to win through exporting, foresight, the Information Society, and so on.

'The government has agreed criteria under which all current or potential new central schemes will be reviewed. Such reviews will be an on-going process with annual reports back to ministers. We are committed to changing the emphasis of support away from central towards local and sectoral design and delivery. Over time central schemes will become the exception not the rule.

'And we are committed to involving businesses and business support organisations more directly in deciding which schemes should continue. In future we will consult businesses and business support organisations as a matter of course before taking decisions. I am pleased therefore to welcome the new consultative group being established by the Business Link partnersto provide their input into this exercise.

'Business told us that it wanted simpler, more accessible and more flexible support. The proposals announced today deliver just that.'

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