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Small Businesses

Volume 583: debated on Thursday 26 June 2014

The Small Business, Enterprise and Employment Bill builds on a record of 42,000 businesses helped to export by UK Trade & Investment over the past year and 15,000 small businesses supported by the growth accelerator scheme. As the Secretary of State said earlier, the number of start-up loans approved has reached 18,000.

As my hon. Friend will be aware, large businesses still owe small businesses over £30 billion in overdue invoices. Only yesterday, a company in Basildon contacted me to say that one of Essex county council’s main contractors owes it well over £100,000 past the due date. Will he expand on how we will use the small business Bill to resolve this issue and pump billions back into the economy?

The Bill contains two elements on prompt payment, the first of which is to increase the amount that Government pay quickly. BIS pays almost all its invoices within 30 days and the vast majority within five days. We will also bring transparency so that when small businesses enter into contracts with large businesses they know their payment performance and can negotiate on that as part of the contract.

Order. I thought that we were through all the substantive questions with time to spare, but we will take a question from Debbie Abrahams.

I am very grateful, Mr Speaker.

I am pleased that the Government have finally produced a Bill to deal with late payments to small businesses by large companies. It includes some of the recommendations from my inquiry last summer into late payments. However, it does not go far enough and will give little comfort to the small businesses whose viability is threatened. Why are these measures so timid?

I pay tribute to the hon. Lady for the work that she has done on this subject. We consulted on all the potential options, including statutory maximums for payment terms. We put the consultation out with an open mind and a wide range of options. In fact, the small business groups that came forward with proposals in response to the consultation favoured transparency, not a statutory limit. We followed the evidence and the response to the consultation. Like her, I am determined to do everything we can to tackle this problem while not getting in the way of freedom of contract between businesses. We have taken these measures because of what the evidence demonstrated, and I think they will have a big impact. That is all part of our long-term economic plan.