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Small Businesses

Volume 565: debated on Tuesday 25 June 2013

Three years ago, I cut the small companies tax rate; this year, I have taken a number of further steps to support small businesses, including the new £2,000 employment allowance, which will reduce small businesses’ tax bill. Up to 1.25 million businesses will benefit, with about a third of all employers taken out of paying employer national insurance contributions altogether. We have also increased the annual investment allowance tenfold this year from £25,000 to £250,000. This directly helps small and medium-sized businesses looking to invest in the future.

Small businesses in South East Cornwall welcome the measures that the Chancellor has already introduced. It has taken some of them to a position where they can expand, but they have been applying and waiting for grant funding for a considerable time. Will my right hon. Friend speak to his Cabinet colleagues to ensure that decisions are taken as soon as possible to allow these businesses to grow and to avoid missed opportunities?

I thank my hon. Friend for her work on the Finance Bill, which she put huge effort into. I know she is passionate about her constituents and the businesses of Cornwall. The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has already given £7 million in rural development grants to her constituency. She has raised some specific cases; a company that makes Cornish Blue has been waiting for what I think is an unacceptable period for an answer from another Government Department about a grant. I will personally look into this matter and see if we can speed the award.

In the £50 billion UK life science industry, the Chancellor’s support for the patent box, the research and development tax credits and a globally competitive corporation tax rate are helping to secure global companies here, as evidenced by Johnson & Johnson’s recent announcement of a global innovation centre here in the UK. Does he also agree that we need to support insurgent small and medium-sized enterprises emerging into the sector? I would like to highlight the role of the biomedical catalyst fund in securing over 50 projects for the UK and £1 billion in venture capital funding.

My hon. Friend’s knowledge in this area is well known, and he has applied it as a Member of Parliament to promoting schemes that help the life sciences industry—and not just the big companies, although we welcome the Johnson & Johnson announcement, but the small companies, too. The biomedical catalyst fund has been very successful at supporting small businesses in this sector. Without giving too much away about tomorrow’s announcements, I can tell him that we will go on funding this scheme.

Can the Chancellor tell us how many firms have been helped by his small firms national insurance holiday since it started three years ago, given that he claimed it would help 400,000 firms?

About 20,000 firms have been helped—[Interruption.] Well, 20,000 firms have been helped, small business creation is at the highest level since the 1980s and there are over 1 million new jobs in the private sector. And we will bring before Parliament new legislation to make sure that the first few thousand pounds of their national insurance bill is completely wiped out—they will not have to pay it at all. That is a real success story, and if the Opposition want to vote against it, they can be my guest.

Finance and credit are the lifeblood of small businesses. The Government have been pumping money into the banking sector, so what is the Chancellor doing to ensure that that money goes to small businesses rather than to repair bank balance sheets?

Of course, as we discussed earlier, the capital position of the banks is important, but the funding for lending scheme is now focused on small business lending. I know that there is a particular issue with the very tough situation that the banking sector faces in Northern Ireland and the problems from the Irish Republic that have spilled over into Northern Ireland. One thing we are doing with the Royal Bank of Scotland is looking specifically at Ulster and the issues surrounding some of the bad loans made in the past, and at how we can help that bank to make good loans in the future to help the businesses of Northern Ireland. We are specifically supporting the Northern Irish economy and we are aware of its problems.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that extending rate relief to a further half a million small businesses will help many of them in the constituencies of Southend West and Rochford and Southend East?

Small business rate relief has helped many small firms to cope with the cost of rates, and we have been able to extend it year after year. We will have to make a decision later in this Parliament about a further extension, but there is clear evidence that the current extension is doing a great deal of good.

The main complaint from businesses throughout the country, both small and large, is that they do not feel they are receiving the support that they need from the banking sector. Given that state-owned banks are among the poorest in terms of lending, what is Jeffrey—sorry, the Chancellor of the Exchequer—doing about it?

As I said earlier, the Royal Bank of Scotland is the largest lender to small businesses in our country. That is why it is such an important support for the economy. We are taking a serious look at how we can enable it to move on from all the bad loans—all the bad bets that it laid—during the middle years of the last decade, when, by the way, the shadow Chancellor, who is still muttering from a sedentary position, was City Minister.

Surely it is in all our interests to try to sort out the banking problem, but I have no idea whether Labour Members support our proposal on the Royal Bank of Scotland. We have heard absolutely nothing from them. However, what we are doing shows that we are actually confronting the problems that we inherited.