§ Mr. Robert Taylor
asked the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry whether he will make a statement on the value to industry of low-cost automation centres and the amount of use made by industry of this Government service.
§ Mr. Ridley
A review of the low-cost automation centres supported by the Department was completed last year, which included inquiries of a random sample of firms who had made use of the service, Whilst it is for industry itself to328W say what value it attaches to the centres, the inquiries showed that all the firms interviewed claimed to have derived some benefit from the services provided, including increased productivity, improvement in product quality, reduced stockholding and reduction in material wastage. It was estimated that the direct economic benefits to the users resulting from the provision of these services were several times greater than the Department's costs. Well over a thousand firms a year, covering a wide range of industries have made use of the services offered, which include the provision of training courses and information, advisory and consultancy services on all aspects of the subject. Following our review I have authorised a continuation of the Department's support for the centres in the expectation that they will become self-supporting in a reasonably short time.