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Small Businesses

Volume 472: debated on Thursday 21 February 2008

2. What steps the Government are taking to assist the development of leadership and management skills in small businesses. (187369)

We have increased our commitment to our leadership and management programme through Train to Gain from £4 million this year to £30 million per year from next year. We aim to develop the capacity of small business managers to understand the skills needs of their businesses, and to use the publicly funded Train to Gain programme. We expect around 42,000 companies with between 10 and 250 employees and some 60,000 individual managers to participate in the leadership programme over the next three years, and we expect that to result in about 150,000 learners from those companies using Train to Gain.

There are many small and medium-sized enterprises in my constituency and, indeed, in the wider Stoke-on-Trent area. Although I would love to mention them all, I suspect that that would both be unfair to those that I missed out and would incur your displeasure, Mr. Speaker.

Will my right hon. Friend outline the practical steps that could enable the measures he has described to help small businesses and starter businesses, not just in my constituency but in the wider Potteries area?

I hope that a number of steps can be taken to promote the scheme, in addition, of course, to the steps that my hon. Friend himself might take. We hope that small and medium-sized enterprises will be approached by skills brokers operating at regional level to promote awareness of the scheme. In fact, we know that that is already happening. It will also be possible for training providers to approach companies directly.

The offer is a good one. Public investment in developing the skills and management experience of businesses will enable managers to understand how they can use Train to Gain funds to secure further public funding to raise the skill levels of their staff. This is a very good proposition for small businesses. It is tried and tested, we have expanded it dramatically, and I hope that all Members will help to promote it in their areas.

My right hon. Friend will know of the considerable growth in small businesses in my constituency, but there are crucial problems. People lack confidence in their ability to develop small firms, and in particular to cope with the volume of regulation. How can we devise courses that will teach them that they have the talent to deliver, and also that they are able to cope with all that regulation?

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform is actively dealing with the issue of regulation and the environment for small businesses by means of deregulation and other mechanisms, and that is an important part of the picture. My Department, meanwhile, has recognised that for business managers, understanding the skills needs of their businesses and the way in which investing in skills can improve productivity and profit is not simple or straightforward. We believe that, by investing public money in improving that understanding and those skills, we can help managers to run their businesses while also enabling them to unlock further public investment in their staff.