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The Minister for Science, Department of Trade and Industry (Lord Sainsbury of Turville): The Government are committed to ensuring that all small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) have access to world-class business support and advice.
I am satisfied that timely, good quality business advice is already being made available through the network of Business Links. The establishment of the Small Business Service and the launch of a new network from April 2001 will see further improvements via a single gateway to a comprehensive network of business support organisations, initiatives and information from the public, private and voluntary sectors, making extensive use of Internet and call centre technology.
Five thousand, three hundred and eighty-five businesses were assisted by UK Online for Business Advisers (formerly Information Society Initiative Centres) between April and June 2000, according to SBS Performance Information figures for that quarter. The recently published International Benchmarking Study 2000, Business in the Information Age, found that in the UK, 81 per cent of businesses are now online, compared with 63 per cent last year. The Government's target of having 1.5 million SMEs wired up to the digital marketplace by 2002 has been exceeded, with 1.7 million SMEs already connected.
Baroness Ramsay of Cartvale: The British Government are keen to develop their economic, cultural and social links with Taiwan. Although, for reasons that are well known, we do not have diplomatic relations with Taiwan, we continue actively to develop a substantial unofficial relationship in the fields of trade, investment, culture, education and science and technology. Taiwan is listed as a target market by Trade Partners UK. In support of British commercial interests, the Ministers for Trade and for
Baroness Ramsay of Cartvale: We do not recognise Taiwan as a state and therefore do not maintain diplomatic relations. In accordance with this position, neither the staff of the Taipei Representative Office in London nor their counterparts in the British Trade and Cultural Office in Taipei have diplomatic status. The tax and legal status of the staff of the Taipei Representative Office in London have been reviewed on a number of occasions. However, because of the constraints imposed by the special position of the Taipei Representative Office, it has not so far proved possible under UK law to find a way to accord staff working in the office tax and employment concessions comparable to those enjoyed by the UK staff of the British Trade and Cultural Office in Taipei.
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