§ Mr. Congdon
To ask the President of the Board of Trade if he will make a statement about the future of the Companies House agency.
§ Mr. Heseltine
The Department of Trade and Industry is looking at the scope for maximising private sector involvement in its work across the range of its activities.
On 19 July 1994, Official Report, column 179, I reported to the House that my Department had appointed consultants to explore further with the market how best to contract out most of the services of Companies House; and to consider whether and, if so, how far Companies House should withdraw from those activities where it might compete with other parts of the business information industry. I have now considered SRU Ltd's report, copies of which have been placed in the House Library—edited to omit commercially sensitive information.
The object of the review of the future of Companies House has been to consider how best to build on its excellent record of improvements in efficiency, value for money and standards of service. I believe that this can best be achieved by closer involvement of the private sector in the running of Companies House activities.
The business information industry is in the early stages of major technological change. In any plan for the future of Companies House, it will be important for it to be able to meet the changing needs of the market. I therefore 1046W propose to proceed with contractorisation on a progressive basis. This will involve Companies House—which will remain an executive agency—working in partnership with the private sector, both customers and suppliers, to develop and deliver new technology. At the same time, it will work through a programme of contracting out a range of activities, including functions carried out by the London and Edinburgh offices. It will be an essential part of any contracts that the existing high standards of service provided by Companies House should continue to be improved. Once the new technology is in place, I would expect to look again at the scope for further contracting out.
It is my intention to lay an order under the Deregulation and Contracting Out Act 1994 early next year to enable the contracting out of the relevant CH functions.
The SRU report also concludes that the best way to maximise the exploitation of the information held in Companies House is for it to continue to provide as wide a range of access as possible to the raw data, leaving it to the rest of the business information industry to exploit that information through analysis, assessment, etcetera. I agree with this conclusion.