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Small Businesses

Volume 498: debated on Tuesday 3 November 2009

8. What fiscal measures he has introduced to assist small businesses with cash-flow difficulties during the recession. (297055)

Among other measures, we have extended loss relief, we have deferred the increase in corporation tax for small companies, we have helped businesses spread payments through the Business Payment Support Service and we have introduced the capital for enterprise fund and the enterprise finance guarantee.

There is a gulf between what Ministers say at the Dispatch Box and what is actually happening. Yesterday, at column 782W, the Minister told me in terms that these schemes include PAYE, but when I made representations on behalf of my constituents, Excelsior Coaches, and wrote to the Chancellor, I received a letter back from Revenue and Customs saying that the Chancellor had never mentioned PAYE and that no such scheme for PAYE existed. Will the Minister find out exactly what is going on?

First, I agree with the hon. Gentleman on just how important the small and medium-sized enterprise sector is to the UK, accounting as it does for nearly 60 per cent. of the private sector work force. That is why we have gone to such lengths to support those businesses, not least through the Business Payment Support Service. About 150,000 businesses have benefited from those agreements, and PAYE has been included in a number of them.

Can the Minister tell us whether the bankers’ bonuses have been tied to their meeting the lending promises and engagements into which they entered with the Government, and in particular with small businesses?

My right hon. Friend the Chancellor will be referring to the question of bonuses in his statement to the House in a few minutes’ time.

Last month we saw a record fall in bank lending to smaller businesses, with a 40 per cent. drop in lending to manufacturing firms. The CBI and members of the Monetary Policy Committee have highlighted lack of credit as a major impairment to the recovery, but at lunchtime today Lord Myners told “The World at One” that there was

“no problem with the availability of credit”.

Does the Minister agree with the noble Lord, or does he live in the real world?

I agree with the Federation of Small Businesses and others who have reported that credit conditions are improving. That is a welcome development. However, I can tell the hon. Gentleman that we will continue to give real help to businesses and reject calls from Opposition Members to let the recession take its course.

While credit conditions are improving, a number of small companies are still suffering because they cannot obtain credit. This week I visited Saint Engineering in Slough, a precision engineering company which, although it has even provided components used for a Mars landing, had to operate for 26 days without a bank account because of the unhelpful attitude of bank managers towards small businesses. What can the Minister do to get them on the case?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right to draw attention to the importance of supporting innovative businesses such as the one in her constituency, and we will continue to talk to the banks about it. It is encouraging to hear reports that conditions are improving, but they are not yet as good as we would wish them to be, which is why we will continue our support and our efforts with the banks.