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Small and Medium-sized Enterprises

Volume 496: debated on Thursday 16 July 2009

20. What recent progress his Department has made in securing greater access to finance for small and medium-sized enterprises. (287071)

The Government continue to ensure that small and medium-sized businesses have access to the finance that they require. Since January we have secured lending commitment agreements with banks, introduced the enterprise finance guarantee—which to date has received over £0.5 billion of eligible applications—and, recently, launched the innovation fund as part of the Government’s strategy for ensuring the UK’s future economic success.

The small firms loan guarantee scheme and the enterprise finance guarantee scheme have produced less than half the target amount of lending. Meanwhile, firms in my constituency with good order books and good prospects are still screaming for credit. What are Ministers going to do about it?

What the Government are anxious to do is use public finance to help to guarantee the funds that are available from banks. That is a very positive and innovative approach. The hon. Gentleman must answer this question: where would the money come from under a Tory Government?

It has nothing to do with the next Tory Government, and everything to do with this Government. They have nationalised the banks—billions of pounds of taxpayers’ money have been put in—but small businesses in my constituency are going bust because the banks are not lending to them. What are the Government going to do about it?

I have described the active steps that the Government have already taken. I am a constituency Member of Parliament too, and I speak regularly to businesses in my constituency. These issues have been raised, and businesses are well aware that the Government have taken action. However, we will act when individual cases are raised. We will support industry and business, and we know that other parties would not.

I fully recognise that my hon. Friend and other Ministers are doing the best they can, but there are still significant difficulties out there with some of the main banks. Are my hon. Friend and his colleagues making it abundantly clear to Treasury Ministers and officials that small and medium-sized enterprises are, regrettably, still suffering at the hands of the major banks?

We all recognise that we are experiencing extremely difficult economic circumstances at present. We are working in the Department to assist small businesses, and of course we liaise closely with the Treasury in discussing the steps that need to be taken to enable us to improve the service that we are giving as much as we possibly can.

I suggest that the Government have not been doing all that they can. Is it not the case that the French and Germans had been facilitating credit for their companies months before we got around to it? Is this not too little, too late?

I am beguiled by the conversion of the Conservative party to adoration of what is happening across the channel. It seems that the right hon. and learned Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Clarke) is having rather more influence than I thought.

We are taking action. Great progress has been made in the way in which we are delivering support for business. We will continue to do so—and Conservative Members have still not told me where they would find the money to pay for these programmes under a programme of cuts.

Pubs are, of course, small businesses, and evidence from pubs around the country shows that they in particular are not receiving assistance and credit from banks. Will the Minister agree to look into that, and meet a delegation from the save the pub group to discuss this important issue?

Mr. Phil Liddell of the Peal O’ Bells pub in Holt in my constituency has been very active in trying to draw attention to the difficulties of pubs in the locality. Before I was a Minister, I attended the hon. Gentleman’s event on licensing so I am very well aware of the difficulties in the industry. The particular area he raises is not in my remit, but I will speak to my ministerial colleagues concerning this matter and they will get back to him.