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Small Businesses

Volume 588: debated on Thursday 20 November 2014

The British Business Bank is now fully operational and has facilitated a total of £2.3 billion of new lending and investment to more than 21,000 businesses. The growth accelerator scheme supports just under 20,000 firms, and 22,600 start-up loans have been drawn down, totalling more than £199 million. More than that, we support small businesses by delivering on our long-term economic plan.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that in 2012 research by Experian for the BBC said that Harlow had the highest rate of business growth in the whole of the United Kingdom? I am holding my own business awards to honour some of Harlow’s best businesses. We have had more than 300 nominations and I will be announcing the result on small business Saturday. Will he congratulate the businesses that have been nominated and recognise the incredible contribution they have made to Harlow’s community?

I do congratulate the businesses that have been nominated and all the businesses that have contributed to a fall in unemployment in Harlow of more than 40% in the past year. My hon. Friend’s jobs fairs have contributed to that and I have no doubt that his support for small business Saturday, which all Members should support, will help to ensure that businesses can thrive in Harlow and elsewhere.

Under this Government, small businesses have been hit by a £1,500 rise in business rates. With so many of our small businesses up and down the country on our high streets under pressure, especially at this time of year, why will the Secretary of State and the Minister not back Labour’s plans to cut and freeze business rates to help our small firms?

We have gone further than that: we have cut by £1,000 business rates for all small retail premises. It is crucial to ensure that business rates work in the long term. They raise a lot of revenue and we have to be aware of that fact. There will be a review in the run-up to 2017, when there will be a planned revaluation. I understand the impact of business rates and we have to ensure that they work better.

Access to banking support is vital for small businesses, yet in my constituency NatWest is closing its Stubbington branch and later this month HSBC will close the last bank in Lee-on-Solent. Will the Minister urge those banks to do more to keep these important local services open?

Yes, of course. The changes in banking and the way most people bank—their use of technology—has an impact on how banks operate. Having visited Stubbington and Lee-on-Solent with my hon. Friend only this week, I know how important these issues are locally. Ultimately, this is a commercial matter for the banks, but we have to ensure that banking services are available in all communities, not least to make sure that vulnerable people have access to services if they cannot use the technology.

Access to start-up finance is clearly very important for small businesses, but businesses also need growth funding. They need to be able to consolidate and expand their businesses. Businesses in Telford often tell me that they want to take the next step forward but find it difficult to secure finance. What more can the Government do to support them?

The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. The 22,000 firms that have received start-up loans have been supported, but the new British Business Bank, something that we have not had before, has supported £2.3 billion of financing, a lot of it to the scale-up firms that he is talking about. Ultimately, we need a strong banking system. After the chaos the banking system was left in, we have been turning that around with stronger regulation. Banking balance sheets are starting to improve and move in the right direction, but it has taken an awfully long time to turn the mess around.

As we head towards small business Saturday, which enjoys the support of the entire House, one group of small businesses that will be feeling better supported and be looking forward with more optimism are the nation’s tied pub tenants. The run-up to Tuesday’s vote saw the Government mired in confusion, as last-minute changes and amendments were proposed and dropped with alarming speed. Will the Minister tell the House what steps he will be taking to ensure that this important change is delivered in a way that works for everyone who cares about Britain’s great pubs?

We are considering and reflecting on the will of the House as it was expressed this week, but be in no doubt that it is this Government who support pubs and publicans more than possibly any Government before: the first cut in beer duty in decades, two cuts in beer duty, and support through ensuring there is community support for pubs. We will not rest in our support for British pubs.