The Government faces a renewed attack over the “astonishing” funding for the Department of Trade and Industry’s Business Links, with a House of Commons debate on the network tabled for next Thursday.
The debate will include questions raised by a DTI document, compiled by Government auditors a year ago and first leaked in March 1995, which revealed that former President of the Board of Trade Michael Heseltine exposed the DTI to “financial risk and embarrassment” in his haste to set up the network (DW 31 March 1995).
Some funding was made illegally, rules on appraisals and the setting up of Links were broken, and the scheme was never properly assessed before it was expanded, claims the report.
Auditors also discovered that many Business Links were in a “parlous financial state” due to “the lack of rigour in financial appraisal and approval” in allowing a Business Link to go ahead, despite caution expressed by Government accountants as to a proposed Link’s future viability.
Shadow Small Business Minister Barbara Roche is demanding an explanation as to why “the proper procedures were not followed, whether Business Links are still in a ‘parlous financial state’ and what changes there have been since the report was written”.
“I find it astonishing that Business Links – the flagship of the Government’s aid to small businesses – went ahead without the proper financial procedures being followed,” says Roche.
A Business Links spokesman declines to comment on funding and finance but says that more and more Business Links are being successfully set up.
See News Analysis, page 8.