Aid for UK exporters

THE GOVERNMENT will tomorrow pledge between pounds 200m and pounds 300m to help British business - and place new emphasis on developing the potential of small firms.

Michael Heseltine, President of the Board of Trade, will make the announcement as he and the Prime Minister launch the Government's second Competitiveness White Paper.

Much of the money will be switched from the budgets of the Department of Trade and Industry and the four other departments involved in the exercise. But Whitehall sources said there will be some new cash, which has been secured from Government reserves.

Mr Heseltine will elaborate on earlier speeches where he has argued that Britain has some of the world's best industry, but also has a "tail" of less effective companies that need help.

The document will review the work undertaken since the first paper on competitiveness was published a year ago by Mr Heseltine, and audit the progress made. It will concentrate on innovation, education and training, exporting, management and deregulation.

Other ministers involved in the inter-departmental operation, who will attend tomorrow's press conference, are Kenneth Clarke, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, David Hunt, the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, Gillian Shephard, Secretary of State for Education and Brian Mawhinney, Secretary of State for Transport.

They will emphasise their anxiety to help small and medium size companies improve their success at exporting, and to increase training opportunities for their workers.

Technology and the IT revolution will also feature in the package. Some of the recommendations of "technology foresight panels", set up by the Office of Public Service and Science to identify promising areas of scientific and commercial advance, will be adopted.

These projects give ministers the opportunity to back high technology without "picking winners" as the governments of the 1960s and 1970s did.

Although last year's competitiveness paper had a low key reception, ministers now argue that it has put in place a solid framework of assistance and support for business and industry.

Since then the Government has consolidated its one-stop advice centres for British firms seeking to export, for example.