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National Investment Corporation

Volume 506: debated on Thursday 4 March 2010

We are working to set up a national investment corporation, alongside working with the banks to establish a growth capital fund. We will announce further details of both shortly.

Do the Government understand that what firms want is lower taxes, fewer regulations, less red tape and the ability to borrow from their usual bank, many of which the Government control, anyway, so it should not be too difficult to ensure? What is the point, therefore, of this new lumbering state corporation, of the type that we thought we had buried in the 1970s? And how many banks have signed up to it, anyway?

In terms of the venture capital funds that the Government have been supporting, we have been getting help to small and medium-sized enterprises in order to ensure that they can take advantage of the recovery, when it comes, and develop new technologies and enterprises. Owing to the investment that we have put in, something like £1.5 billion has been given to 600 small and medium-sized enterprises to undertake such work. I know that the right hon. and learned Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Clarke) says that

“the words ‘industrial strategy’ send a slight shudder down my spine,”

but, if that type of help were not available in his constituency, it would be very bad news for small and medium-sized enterprises.

That type of help is not available. I think that the expression is “all talk and no trousers,” because nothing has happened. Being a bit of an internet wizard, I googled “national investment corporation” just before I came into the Chamber, and interestingly the last reference to it was a press report on 9 December, so that shows how much activity has been going on. Will the Minister now say that it was a scheme dreamt up by Peter and Gordon, over a brew, to a whiff of sulphur, and will they concentrate on helping businesses, not on announcing great, grandiose schemes that go nowhere?

I do not think that the hon. Gentleman understands at all the needs of small and medium-sized enterprises at the moment. He does not acknowledge that in his region 627 loans have been offered to companies, totalling £67 million. His party would reduce—indeed, take away—all the assistance that we are giving to small and medium-sized enterprises, and it is very sad that he does not understand the importance of our strategy.

Would not more money be available if everybody paid their taxes? A fella is getting away with £127 million, without paying his taxes, and he is running the Tory party. They talk about being the party of change. They are the party of money-changers, and we ought to—

Order. The hon. Gentleman has expressed himself, but unfortunately the relationship with the national investment corporation is not merely tangential, it is non-existent. [Interruption.] We will leave it at that.

The most worrying threat to the future growth of the economy is the appalling decline in business investment. All we get from the Government is a series of grandiloquent announcements or press releases from the Prime Minister and the Industry Secretary. Does the right hon. Lady recall replying to a question in December last year by telling us:

“Further details of the National Investment Corporation will be announced by the time of the pre-Budget report.”—[Official Report, 3 December 2009; Vol. 501, c. 987W.]?

She will recall that nothing appeared in the pre-Budget report. Will she admit that it was just another public relations announcement, and that nothing substantial has been done to encourage the banks to return to providing normal lending, normal credit facilities and normal commercial services to small and medium-sized businesses, in particular?

It is astonishing that the right hon. and learned Gentleman does not accept that providing something like £1.5 billion of assistance in venture capital funds to small and medium-sized enterprises is important. We know that he wants to abolish regional development agencies; and we know that he does not believe in intervening, because he said that “industrial strategy” sends a shudder down his spine. But I should like to know how withdrawing investment allowances from small and medium-sized businesses would help whatever. Again, the Engineering Employers Federation said:

“Reducing the level of capital allowances would be a big problem for manufacturers”.

The Opposition do not care about small and medium-sized enterprises, but we do.