Blair offers big helping hand to small business

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The Independent Online
Every three minutes of every working day since the last general election, a business has gone bust in Britain, Labour will claim tomorrow.

Tony Blair, the party's leader, will launch a campaign to woo small businesses by pointing out how many have gone to the wall since the Tories' 1992 election victory.

He will use the VAT-registration statistics as a way of estimating how many firms have gone under. Registering for VAT is a sign a firm is growing; de-registering indicates it is in severe financial difficulties. The official figures show that since 1992, more than a million firms have ceased to be registered for VAT.

During the same period, 900,000 registered for VAT purposes. However, Labour will claim there is a shortfall of 100,000; and, of those that registered, they will question how many of them have remained on the register.

Mr Blair will emphasise the party's commitment to training and developing skills. While there is already plenty of training on offer to small firms, they often find it difficult to locate the most suitable course, and do not know where to look for assistance.

Labour's attempt to cut through this maze is the "Enterprise Zone", an Internet site geared to small firms. All a manager needs to do is touch a map of Britain to show where they are, say what sort of industry they are in and a list of relevant courses will appear.

The party's initiative will promise tough action on late payment of bills, the bugbear of any small business. Taking a leaf from the Tories, another commitment will be the cutting of bureaucratic red tape. Fledgling hi-tech firms will be singled out for special support.

"Thousands of hard-working and enterprising business owners have been betrayed by the Tories," said Alan Milburn, a Labour front-bench Treasury spokesman. "They have left a trail of bankrupt small businesses, which is all part of the haemorrhage of enterprise throughout British life."