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Government slammed for £3m staff and communication bill

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Ministers have spent £3m on administration involved with simplifying the government’s much criticised business support system, official figures have revealed.

In its formal response to consultation on improving the support regime, the Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform (DBERR) said “staff and communication costs” reached £3m in 2007 with another £1m due to be spent both this year and next.

Employers’ groups have been complaining for several years that the thousands of schemes, initiatives and programmes currently available make it confusing for firms to work out where to turn for help. According to DBERR, companies would receive benefits worth between £2bn and £14bn over 10 years if the regime was simplified.

The government has pledged to slash the 3,000 schemes currently on offer to 100 but it is unclear how many, if any, have been closed down to date. The Financial Times claimed last week that less than 10 have been axed but a DBERR spokesperson told sister site BusinessZone that the figure was “wrong”.

The department has revealed however that it has identified 18 “high level” schemes which will continue to receive Whitehall funding although it admitted that “further work will be needed to refine the portfolio”.

Following release of the figures, the Conservative party hit out at the progress made so far. In a letter to competitiveness minister Stephen Timms, Tory business spokesperson Mark Prisk said it was “disappointing” that the government still cannot explain what the new support regime will be and how it will work.

“The proposals appear to be a rebranding exercise, not real reform. Re-labelling schemes as ‘products’ and grouping these under themes as ‘portfolios’ may help you reduce 3,000 schemes into 100 ‘portfolios’ but how does it help business?,” he said. “Many firms will see this simply as window dressing. What qualitative improvement will be achieved by this, for business?”

Prisk called on Timms to agree to a debate in the House of Commons on the government’s plans.

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Annie Hayes

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