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Small Businesses

Volume 590: debated on Thursday 8 January 2015

There are a record number of small businesses in Britain—760,000 more than in 2010—and they are employing more people than ever before. As in any other area of our economy, the best support we can give small businesses is to stick with the long-term economic plan.

I commend the Government for what they have done for small businesses, especially on business rates, which has helped local businesses in my constituency of Brentford and Isleworth. One of the issues that still faces small businesses is late payment. I know some of that will be addressed—by negotiating fairer contracts—in the Government’s Small Business, Enterprise and Employment Bill, but does my right hon. Friend agree that the unfair practices of late payment and supply chain bullying are unacceptable?

Yes, I do. We are working incredibly hard—in fact, no Government have done more than this one—to tackle late payment. Changes coming into effect at the end of this month will ensure that 30-day payment terms are driven down the supply chain from public sector purchases. There have been 9,400 business start-ups in my hon. Friend’s constituency during this Parliament—one of the highest figures across the whole country, thanks in no small part to her hard work.

A Minister told one of my hon. Friends earlier that the Government would review employment law. Will the Minister for Business and Enterprise also review company law, certainly in relation to City Link? I am sure my hon. Friend the Member for Coventry North West (Mr Robinson) will support me in saying that we should review company law as well as employment law. What happened at City Link, with redundancies being announced on Christmas day, was an absolute disgrace. How would people feel if that happened to them?

The timing of the announcement was clearly very difficult, but we are doing all we can to support those affected by the decision. Both the Secretary of State, who was constantly in touch with the company and the unions over Christmas, and I are working hard to support those affected.

One of the things that the Government could do to support small businesses is to support Labour’s plans to outlaw pay to stay agreements. We very much welcome the fact that, on the back of pressure from the Opposition, Premier Foods has ceased its pay to stay arrangements. The Government say that such arrangements are unacceptable, but at the same time they refuse to outlaw them. Does the Minister consider some forms of pay to stay acceptable, or are the Government so hostile to any form of regulation that they are willing to stand by while unacceptable business practices evolve and to leave small firms at the mercy of their big business customers?

I know that the hon. Gentleman likes to chip in to this debate, but recent events have clearly demonstrated the power of transparency in relation to late payment to small business. As he knows, we are radically improving the position through the small business Bill. When the contracts came to light, the company was held to account and did a U-turn. [Interruption.] They were brought to light by the Federation of Small Businesses, to which I pay tribute for its work in highlighting the issue.