One of the main contributions is the number of jobs created. The best estimate that we have is that start-ups are responsible for a third of all jobs created. Start-up activity has remained highly resilient, with Companies House reporting over 450,000 newly registered companies in 2011-12—the highest number since 1997-98.
I am sure that the Minister will welcome this week’s CBI report showing that small and medium-sized enterprises are very optimistic about adding jobs in the year to come. However, what would he say to a start-up in my constituency, Energetic UK, which builds eco classrooms for schools? It is run by very experienced people, but because it is a start-up they do not have the three years’ annual accounts needed to get local authority contracts. I have written to him about this company and wonder what the Department could do to help.
Instructions to contracting authorities emphasise that the assessment of financial risk should be based on a business judgment, not on a purely mechanistic application of financial formulae such as value of turnover or three years’ accounts, which could unreasonably shut out start-up companies.
Small businesses are being held back from expanding and taking on extra workers because they are unable to get the finance they need. This week Dave Fishwick, also known as Bank of Dave, addressed a group of MPs about a model of community banking that has worked in his area. What more could the Government do, particularly given the failure of their Project Merlin scheme, to ensure access to finance and better relationship banking in communities such as mine?
I am not sure that we need lectures from a party that introduced six new regulations every working day during its 13 years in office. We have cut red tape and business tax. There is an issue with access to finance. That is why we have set up the business bank, the funding for lending scheme, and a range of other schemes. It is now up to the banks to rebuild their relationship networks to make businesses more aware of the appeals mechanism. We are encouraging the British Bankers Association to do that to make sure that the money that the Government and the taxpayer are providing gets through to the companies that need it.
The Minister understands that every new successful entrepreneur is a new job creator, a new wealth creator, and a new net contributor to paying for our public services. Does he also understand the importance of the intention of people to become entrepreneurs? What is the Department doing to strengthen the entrepreneurial culture in our country?
We shall be playing our part in next week’s global entrepreneurship week, with 2,500 events throughout the country. I shall also be promoting a range of other Government schemes such as the CEiS scheme, which encourages more investment by entrepreneurs in start-up companies, and a number of other schemes that encourage enterprise in our schools and colleges to help those who are thinking of starting up companies as soon as they leave further or higher education.
On economic growth, does the Minister agree with the National Audit Office’s assessment that a “significant portion” of the regional growth fund has been
“allocated to projects that create or safeguard relatively few jobs for the money invested”?
What steps is he going to take to address this concern?
I do not wholly accept that criticism. The regional growth fund has been a key part of creating and safeguarding 500,000 new jobs in rounds 1, 2 and 3. I find the logic of the National Audit Office report somewhat perverse. It argues that we should look only at net jobs. If a plant in the hon. Gentleman’s constituency closed with the loss of 500 jobs and 450 of the people affected were subsequently employed elsewhere, he would not stand up in this House and say that he had only lost 50 jobs.
Does the Minister agree that new start-ups benefit from grant aid in particular? To that end, will he ensure that the UK takes advantage of EU transition zones in the next funding round, and will he structure them in accordance with the Heseltine recommendations of local flexibility to ensure that new start-ups are not put in a straitjacket and are unable to use them?
Yes, I will certainly look at that. We are now preparing how we manage and administer the programmes under the new multi-annual financial framework, which will begin in January 2014 and last until 2020. I want to make sure that we have a smaller number of programmes across the United Kingdom and that we therefore minimise the differing costs and start dates under the previous seven-year framework. We need a simpler approach to the cohesion funds, but I certainly take the hon. Gentleman’s point on the importance of the transition regions outside the category A regions.