18. What steps his Department is taking to increase economic growth through the provision of assistance for small businesses.
On 5 January, the Prime Minister announced plans to overhaul the Business Link website, provide a national contact centre, establish a network of business mentors and launch the business coaching for growth programme. This is in addition to the enterprise finance guarantee, providing £200 million more in equity funds and extending and improving the manufacturing advisory service.
I thank the Minister for that particularly helpful answer. I am concerned about local enterprise partnerships and the transition period, and about whether the businesses, particularly rural businesses in north Yorkshire that currently benefit will lose out in the interim.
There are two aspects to how we ensure that small businesses are helped. The first is the online offer and the modernising and improving of what is available in businesses’ own premises so that they can access the information they need. The second is the quality of business-to-business advice. We think that the people with real business experience—business-to-business mentors—are the best answer, which is why I am proud to stand at the Dispatch Box and say that already, six months ahead of launch, we have identified 40,000 experienced business people who have offered to provide precisely that kind of help.
One of the problems that small businesses have is the acquisition of premises. If the Minister would care to walk down the Melton road in Leicester with me, he would see a very vibrant area, but a lot of empty shops. What can be done to assist local businesses in acquiring premises?
I would be delighted to walk down the Melton road with the right hon. Gentleman, although my travel diary is beginning to get a little pressed. The crucial opportunity here comes from the local enterprise partnerships and removing barriers to growth. The business and civic communities in those cities and areas are best placed to identify where the pressure is and to talk to the landlords and municipal authorities involved. That is why we want to ensure that LEPs make a real difference in removing the barriers to growth.