The Government are making it easier to start, finance and grow small businesses. There are now 400,000 more small businesses than in 2010. The total number stands at a record 4.9 million, with a record 4.5 million people in self-employment. Yesterday, we introduced in the House the first ever small business Bill.
The Federation of Small Businesses index has highlighted that small businesses are still struggling to get the finance they need to expand—something confirmed by small businesses in my constituency to a very large degree. The FSB also calls for greater competition and choice in business banking. Does the Minister accept that the Government’s failed schemes, including Project Merlin and credit easing, have had no impact whatsoever?
The hon. Gentleman was doing quite well until that last exaggeration. I certainly agree that strengthening access to finance is a vital part of securing our recovery, and of course measures in the Bill announced yesterday will help to do that, but according to the FSB, small businesses’ confidence is at a high since Labour’s great recession. Small businesses in the hon. Gentleman’s constituency are playing their part, because unemployment on the claimant count has fallen by 30% in the past year.
Small businesses in my constituency and around the country tell me that the real struggle when they are supplying large businesses is payment terms. Does my hon. Friend agree that requiring large companies to publish their payment practices is an important step in helping to drive a more responsible payment culture between large and small businesses?
I recently held a listening event for businesses across Bolton West. A major concern for them, and a definite barrier to success for micro-businesses, is business rates. As they have gone up by £1,500 already in this Parliament and by another £270 in April, will the Minister support a cut in business rates in 2015 and a freeze the year after?
It is interesting to hear another Labour proposal that is uncosted and unfunded. We have instead taken action to reduce by £1,000 the business rates on retail premises. We are clear that business rates need reform, and that reform will happen, but what we need are sensible contributions to the debate, given the enormous hole in the public finances that we are still having to fill.