The Commission has approved an aid scheme in France to encourage small businesses to use external consultants to improve performance and productivity. The main areas in which firms are to be encouraged to seek such help are: - New technology; - Finance; - Regulation; - Environmental protection; - General management. To obtain consultancy help in these areas, small and medium-sized businesses (according to the definition in the Commission's SME aid guidelines) and larger independent firms with up to 500 employees will be offered, grants covering up to 50% of the cost involved with a maximum grant of ECU 30,000 per firm. For very short assignments by outside consultants, the aid is limited to ECU 4,000 but can cover a higher proportion of the costs. The scheme will be in operation for five years (1994-98). The budget, contributed both by central and local government, will be around FF 800 million (ECU 122 million) a year. The Commission has always taken a favourable view of incentives for smaller firms to enlist the help of consultants in order to improve their performance. Such activities have been given prominence in the Commission's White Paper on Growth, Competitiveness and Employment. Indeed, the Community finances them itself through the Structural Funds.