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Small Businesses

Volume 567: debated on Tuesday 10 September 2013

This year the Government are taking further steps to help small businesses. We have increased the investment allowance tenfold, and from next April we will introduce a new employment allowance worth £2,000 for every small employer, taking around one third of small employers out of employer national insurance contributions altogether. From next Monday we will help small businesses get the best deal from their banks by guaranteeing that they can switch their accounts within seven days. That service will also be available to families, which is real choice and competition in banking being introduced by the Government.

I thank the Chancellor for that answer. I know he will want to welcome the new business centre I opened recently in the centre of Winchester, which is part of our plans to find and develop new start-ups. That is all happening in the light of increased business confidence, increased takings and reduced vacancies on the high street. Will he therefore join me in backing Winchester city council, which is working strongly in partnership with the business improvement district to help drive recovery in my area?

I certainly welcome that. I met members of my hon. Friend’s local authority who came to Downing street to tell me about the business improvement district. That involves the local council, the local MP and local businesses working together to attract jobs and investment to Winchester. I congratulate him on the leadership he has shown.

In the past year, 502 small businesses have been set up in my constituency, which is a 12.6% increase on the previous year. Does the Chancellor agree that further extending rate relief to new small businesses will both help them and inspire other people to set up new businesses in the economically vibrant part of the world that I have the privilege to represent?

We have had rate relief for small businesses—I have announced that in previous fiscal statements, and my hon. Friend must wait for further announcements—but we are also helping businesses with the employment allowance. That major change in the tax system means we are taking a third of small businesses out of employer NICs. Four hundred and fifty thousand small businesses will benefit, which I hope is welcomed on both sides of the House.

Given the need to underpin local economies, what progress has been made toward reviewing the current approval criteria for a simplified import VAT accounting scheme? That would enable new businesses, but particularly import businesses, to be underpinned.

I will write to the hon. Lady on her specific point, to which I do not currently have an answer. However, more broadly, the Government are open to ways in which to make the VAT system and the business tax system simpler. We have created the Office of Tax Simplification, which has specifically looked at the burden on small businesses. I will take what she says as a submission.

I wonder whether I could yank the Chancellor out of his complacency for one moment. Is he aware that, in the year since the funding for lending scheme was announced, lending to small and medium-sized businesses is, on the most recent figures, negative? Is he aware that that is symptomatic of a broader failure on investment under his reign?

Gross lending is up under the funding for lending scheme, which we operate jointly with the Bank of England. We are aware of the specific challenge of small business finance, which is why, just before the summer, with the previous Governor, we launched a focus of the scheme on small business funding.

The hon. Gentleman says investment is failing under this Government. He is an MP from the midlands. Given his personal history, I would have thought he would welcome the announcement by Jaguar Land Rover of the 1,700 jobs being created in Solihull. As he well knows, four years ago there was a choice of closing either Castle Bromwich or Solihull. Not only are both open, but a huge investment in the new technology of ultra-light cars is coming along with 1,700 new jobs. The hon. Gentleman is a midlands MP and used to work for the company, so I would have thought he would welcome that.

19. I met the Braintree district business forum last week. The feedback was very positive—the economy is turning around and demand for business is growing—but, as businesses grow, they face a working capital squeeze. What are the Government doing to enable businesses to access working capital more easily? (900237)

The business bank is up and running, and £300 million is in the market to help support small business lending. My hon. Friend has gone around the country promoting some of the investment tax breaks we have provided, such as the seed investment tax break, which provides that crucial, early-stage capital so that the many businesses now being created have the money to grow.

I am glad the Chancellor mentioned the banks. The small businesses in my constituency report that the predatory and risk-averse nature of the banks is still their biggest problem. One particular company has large contracts, including one in Parliament, which the banks have funded and which has just got started on time—the company is tooling up. However, the bank is now talking about stripping its assets and threatening its viability. What can the Chancellor do to stop banks in this country being so risk-averse and get them to support business?

That is a good question from the hon. Gentleman. The repair of the financial system perhaps remains one of our biggest domestic economic challenges. We are conducting a review of the future structure of the Royal Bank of Scotland and I will report back to Parliament this autumn on that specifically. More generally on the banking system, the funding for lending scheme, as a monetary intervention, has helped to support lending. Account switching, which will be possible from next Monday as the result of Government pressure, will help small firms to change their bank account much more easily and, as a result, get a better service.

20. Unemployment in Brighton Kemptown is falling, although there is still much to do. Does my right hon. Friend agree that the £2,000 cut in jobs tax will help small businesses in Brighton take on more staff and get even more people into work? (900238)

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. It is not just jobs that are being created in Brighton; there has been an increase in the number of businesses being created, too. Employment allowance is coming in and people will see that as a real way of helping small businesses with the cost of labour. That should help them employ more people and help the people who are already employed. That is just one example of what we are doing to ensure that this is a balanced private sector recovery, and that we do not repeat the mistakes of the past.

Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs expects businesses to provide real-time information, which a lot of small businesses find either very difficult or impossible to do. What help will be put in place to ensure that they are able to move on to the new system? Even if universal credit eventually comes into being, it will depend on that information.

Some 90% of businesses are on real-time information. Of course, the transition to any new system is a challenge, but the new system will be much easier for small businesses, and all businesses, to keep an accurate account of their tax payments, and that will help them. We have phased it in so that small businesses, in particular, have time to prepare. This is a real improvement on a tax system that was many decades old and had not kept up with modern technology.

Will the Chancellor consider abolishing business rates for small retail establishments, and to make that fiscally neutral by putting a levy on out-of-town car parks?

I am not sure about the out-of-town car park part of the question, because I want to encourage retail and employment wherever they happen. We are aware of the challenge on our high streets, particularly for small retailers. The Government have, in previous Budgets and autumn statements, extended relief from business rates for small businesses, which has meant that many of the smallest firms do not pay business rates. I will take the suggestion as a good submission for a future fiscal statement.