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Small Businesses

Volume 493: debated on Thursday 11 June 2009

Since 2005, we have reduced the administrative burden on business by £1.9 billion and are on track to deliver our promise of a 25 per cent. reduction worth £3.4 billion by 2010. We plan to adopt new simplification targets for 2010 to 2015 which will address regulatory costs for all businesses, but especially small businesses.

I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on his appointment and promotion, which were well deserved. He has always taken an interest in small businesses. He will be aware that the First Secretary has made a number of encouragingly pro-business speeches recently. In fact, he said that both the Government and Europe should get off the back of small businesses. He seemed to be implying that the Government now want to come out of the EU social chapter. Is that the case? Will the Minister also confirm that it is still his Department’s intention strongly to resist the job-destroying agency workers directive?

First, I thank the hon. Gentleman for his kind words, which are greatly appreciated. I ran a small business myself for a period and I know the importance of good regulation for small businesses. Some regulation is good, but the Government are keen to reduce and eliminate unnecessary regulation. The type of regulation that is acceptable to the Government should support workers. The minimum wage is a form of regulation of which we are very proud. We all support that type of good regulation, but we will always eliminate bad regulation. We are always listening to businesses to hear what they have to say, so that we can do that as often as possible.

As my hon. Friend will be aware, reducing the imposition of regulation on small business is important, but another important factor is ensuring that finance is available for small businesses. He is aware that the enterprise finance guarantee is working well and is getting money for small businesses to where it should be. Is he satisfied that there is sufficient money in that scheme to ensure that, as we are at the turning point of the recession, the vital resource of money for small businesses will be available for some time to come?

It is, of course, extremely important that such finance is available for small business. I noted, as I sat as a Whip in the Chamber, how the Opposition have stopped talking about the ineffectiveness of so-called Government schemes. Those schemes are working. It is always important to listen to business and to hear what it has to say about the availability of resources. If there are shortages, we will certainly listen to what small businesses have to say.

May I, for the second time in less than 24 hours, congratulate and welcome the Minister and extend that welcome to the rest of his ministerial colleagues on the Front Bench, pausing only to regret that the majority of the team—and its most powerful members—sit in another place? I invite him to reassure the House of the Department’s commitment to regulatory reform, and particularly to the deregulation of small businesses. I urge him to reconsider the provisions of my private Member’s Bill, which would remove the requirement for a small business to apply for rate relief so that it would be applied automatically, instead. I withdrew that Bill voluntarily on the basis of assurances from the Government that, to be honest, have not been met.

I thank the hon. Gentleman again for his kind words. As I mentioned previously, I ran a small business, so I know the frustrations caused to businesses by the imposition of what they perceive as unnecessary regulation. I can assure him that I will do all I can to remove unnecessary regulation for small businesses, because I bear the scars of having to go through lots of forms that I could not understand.

I congratulate my hon. Friend on his appointment to a key role in the empire of Mandelsonia. It is good to see him on the Front Bench.

In tracking the concerns of small businesses, we are seeing the cost of compliance moving up their list, and that is a worry to many who recognise the role of small businesses in creating most of the jobs that will pull us out of recession over the next 18 months. Will he assure the House that the dropping of regulatory reform from the original title of one of the component Departments does not mean that there will be a relaxation of attention on this important area for small and medium-sized enterprises?

As the Minister responsible for regulatory reform, I can assure him that I do not intend that its importance should drop in any way. It is a vital part of creating a more efficient and competitive economy and I will do all I can to take the agenda forward.

I, too, welcome the Minister to the Dispatch Box. I lose track, but I think that he is the seventh or eighth Minister whom I have shadowed in the last few years and I genuinely hope that he lasts longer than his predecessors.

Despite the Minister’s claims and his welcome experience in small business, red tape is strangling enterprise. Let me give him an example. To install new microgeneration technologies in this country, a business must comply with not one, two or even three regulators but five separate regulators, three of whom make separate charges. Is that burden of regulation intentional, or is it just the result of ministerial incompetence?

It is never the Government’s intention to create difficulties for anyone. Our intention is to make progress. I should be very glad to have more information about the specific example to which the hon. Gentleman has referred, and I shall gladly look into it. I thank him for his kind words, and assure him that I intend to be here for a very long time.