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Nigel Griffiths: This Government has done more than any other to specifically address the problem of late payment. We introduced the Late Payment of Commercial Debts (Interest) Act 1998 which allows small businesses to claim interest and debt recovery costs on late paid invoices and also gives representative organisations the right to challenge unfair contract terms on behalf of SMEs.
The Government helped to create the Better Payment Practice Group (BPPG) a cooperative forum of Industry associations and Government that seeks to improve the payment culture in the UK. The BPPG provides a range of information and advice to all businesses, its website www.payontime.co.uk includes a guide to using the legislation as well as other tools.
A recent survey by the REL Consultancy Group looked at average days payable outstanding (DPO) and concluded that UK companies' payment performance is 33.6 days against 42.4 days for Europe as a whole, whilst countries such as Italy (67.9) and France (63.4) perform considerably less well.
Nigel Griffiths: The Business Link Operator for North Manchester has provided assistance to 887 businesses in the Oldham West and Royton constituency since 2001. The Small Business Service was set up as an agency of the Department of Trade and Industry in April 2000. Contracts were exchanged with a national network of 45 Businesses Link operators (seven in the North West) to provide Business Support to small and medium sized enterprises from April 2001. Before this date Government Support to businesses was provided through Training and Enterprise Councils and the SBS does not have access to this data.
The 887 companies have received assistance on Business Finance, Environmental, E-Services, High Growth, International, Innovation Technology and Design, Micro Support, Supply Chain, and Workforce Development and other Account Management assistance.
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(2) how many new businesses have started up in Preston since 1997. 
Nigel Griffiths: Barclays Bank's latest survey of business creation includes non-VAT registered firms and shows that there were 115,000 business start-ups in England and Wales, including 2,600 in Lancashire County (which contains the constituency of Preston), in the fourth quarter of 2003. The latest yearly figures show 465,000 business start-ups in England and Wales in 2003. This represents a 19 per cent. increase on the year before. There were 10,200 business start-ups in Lancashire County in 2003. Data for counties are not available for before 2003.
DTI figures based solely on VAT registrations for Preston local authority and South Ribble local authority (parts of both include the constituency of Preston) are shown in the table for the period 1997 to 2002. Data for 2003 will be available in Autumn 2004.
VAT registrations do not capture all start-up activity. Businesses are unlikely to be registered if they fall below the compulsory VAT threshold, which has risen in each year since 1997. Similarly, businesses that de-register will not necessarily have closed. Only 1.8 million out of 3.8 million enterprises were registered for VAT at the start of 2002.
The Government continues to support the thrust of the proposal put forward by the European Commission for a Directive on the patentability of computer-implemented inventions that clarifies the existing position and reduces uncertainty in this field. Recent discussions on this subject have taken place between my officials and officials of other Member States with a view to a discussion in the Competitiveness Council on 17 and 18 May 2004. My Department continues to work with interested parties and other Member States to achieve a Directive that offers benefits for both innovators and users of this technology in the UK and Europe.
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Bob Spink: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry what assessment she has made of the (a) level and (b) effects on the UK steel industry of steel dumping in Europe; and if she will make a statement. 
Mr. Timms: None. Complaints about dumping in the European Union relating to steel or any other product and its effects on the Community industry, including the UK, are assessed by the European Commission against the criteria laid down in the EC's Basic Anti-dumping Regulation. The European Commission determines whether dumping has occurred and the extent to which the industry has been injured. If it finds dumping and injury, it may recommend anti-dumping measures which usually take the form of additional duties. It is then up the Member States, including UK government officials, to support or oppose any Commission recommendation for anti-dumping measures.
Mr. Dorrell: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry (1) how many (a) benefit, (b) postal order and (c) Girobank transactions were completed in each of the last five financial years by the sub-post offices at (i) 30 Went Road, Birstall, Leicester and (ii) 778 Melton Road, Thurmaston, Leicester; 
(2) what the cost to Post Office Ltd. was in each of the last five financial years of keeping open the sub-post offices at (a) 30 Went Road, Birstall, Leicester and (b) 778 Melton Road, Thurmaston, Leicester. 
Nigel Griffiths: The Government's target for renewables is that, by 2010, 10 per cent. of our electricity sales will come from renewable sourced electricity. The target is challenging as we are starting from a low base.
The Government's main policy mechanism for achieving the target is the Renewables Obligation (and Renewables Obligation Scotland) Introduced in April 2002, it places an obligation on all licensed electricity suppliers to supply a specified and growing proportion of their sales from electricity generated from a range of eligible renewable sources.
Through the Renewables Obligation (RO), we are looking to accelerate the development of renewables in a wide range of sources and technologies. In order to encourage a more vigorous and diverse renewable energy sector, the Government has allocated a total of £350 million over four years for capital grants and research grants to promote forms renewable energy that are further from becoming commercially competitive. This includes among other things grants of £117 million for offshore wind, £66 million for energy crops and
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biomass, £25 million for solar photovoltaics (PV), £10 million for community schemes and £5 million for wave and tidal demonstration projects.
The Government additionally has a target of achieving at least 10 gigawatts of good Quality combined heat power (CHP) capacity by 2010 and published its Strategy for CHP to 2010 on 26 April of this year confirming its continued aim towards that target. CHP is a highly fuel-efficient energy technology which (puts to use waste heat produced as a by-product of the electricity generation process and) can make a significant contribution to the UK's sustainable energy goals.
Mr. Stephen O'Brien: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry what plans she has to make a statement on the first annual report on sustainable energy; and what form such a statement will take. 
Mr. Timms: My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, wrote on 26 April to Mr. Speaker, the hon. Member for Maidenhead (Mrs. May) and the hon. Member for Lewes (Norman Baker) informing them that the Government was publishing on that day the first annual report on the Energy White Paper, among other documents, and that copies of the report had been placed in the Libraries of the House. My right hon. Friend also made a written ministerial statement on 27 April 2004, Official Report, column 37WS, announcing that the annual report had been published and that copies had been placed in the Libraries of the House.
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