US-style 'incubators' for UK

Anthony Nelson, the Treasury Minister, is trying to persuade the accountancy bodies to launch a new financial management certificate for small firms.

The certificates are designed to signal a firm's financial competence and so encourage banks to lend. This morning the minister announces a new panel under Graham Ross Russell, chairman of the Securities Institute, which will look for ways to set up US-style small business "incubators" in the UK. These are centres for small business run by expert directors who help the firms to grow until they can become independent.

The two moves result from Mr Nelson's industrial finance initiative,a Treasury study that produced suggestions for improving the flow of finance to business.

Mr Nelson said 60 proposals had been accepted and another 40 had been acknowledged as desirable. He rejected suggestions that the incubators could cut across the role of the Business Links units being set up by the Department of Trade and Industry to rationalise advice to small and medium-sized firms.

The incubators would work through them, but he did not believe Business Links would know how to run incubators successfully.

Mr Ross Russell's panel has 18 months to look into whether they could be set up more extensively in the UK. But the Treasury does not, at present, have funds lined up to back the incubators, which it hopes will be set up by the private sector.

The same applies to the financial management certificates. Mr Nelson said he had met the heads of all the British accounting bodies to ask them to introduce the new qualification, but he admitted that their response had been mixed.

The certificate will be awarded to the company applying for it rather than its directors. Mr Nelson expected the certificate to come in modular form so companies of different size and complexity could seek qualifications at the most suitable level.

Banks, small business representatives and training specialists are also being consulted.