Heseltine widens Board's turf

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MICHAEL HESELTINE, President of the Board of Trade, is set to expand further his department's power by taking over a number of key functions from the Department of Employment.

He plans to establish hundreds of high street 'shops' throughout Britain which would deliver the Board of Trade's services to business and some at present supplied by the Department of Employment through the Training and Enterprise Council network.

Mr Heseltine's department has already taken over the employment department's pounds 40m small business counselling function and the whole of the Department of Energy.

There was no question, however, of a power battle between the two departments, Mr Heseltine said at the annual conference of TECs in Birmingham. Referring to Gillian Shephard, Secretary of State for Employment, who was at his side, he said they were 'as one' over the initiative. Mrs Shephard concurred: 'We are a seamless garment.'

In a speech to 500 delegates Mr Heseltine said there should be an end to the 'turf battles' between government agencies about overlapping schemes. 'We can no longer afford to continue to waste our collective energy on this unproductive debate,' he said.

A working party with representatives from TECs, chambers of commerce and other organisations will set up the so-called 'first stop shops'. But Mr Heseltine saw TECs as the 'enablers' and the chambers and other agencies that normally deal with the DTI as 'deliverers'.

The 'shops' would seek to help business by cutting through Whitehall bureaucracy and providing industry with one point of contact for access to government services.

Mr Heseltine said companies were faced by 'a confusing set of agencies, located in no apparent pattern and far from their customers'. These organisations offered a complex and overlapping array of products which often failed to meet expectations.

Mr Heseltine called for joint bids for 10 to 15 pilot schemes this autumn. The shops would aim to give advice on what the Departments of Trade and Industry and Employment had to offer.