1. What steps he is taking to support small and medium-sized businesses to become more competitive. (900630)
Our business growth service provides expertise to ambitious firms who want to grow and become more competitive, and over this Parliament we will make extensive cuts to red tape which will save businesses £10 billion.
I thank the Secretary of State for his answer. Headromance is a Havant-based hair salon launched in 2012 by two young entrepreneurs. It now employs 10 stylists and five apprentices. Will my right hon. Friend update the House on the measures this Government have taken to support the growth of apprenticeships?
I warmly welcome my hon. Friend to his place. I am not sure I would have much need of the services of Headromance—I am sure that applies to the shadow Business Secretary too—but that does not stop me warmly congratulating its owners on their success and in particular on backing apprentices. As my hon. Friend knows, during this Parliament we want to see apprenticeship starts rise to 3 million, and we have a number of measures in place to achieve just that.
I draw attention to my entry in the register of interests. Many small and medium-sized freight businesses struggle with the cost of training drivers. Have the Government any plans to look at this afresh with a view to helping people train to become lorry drivers in the UK?
As the hon. Gentleman will know, it is very important for the Government to listen to all industries about their skills and training needs, including for freight drivers. Of course, the option of apprenticeships is open to that industry, but we must look at other measures too.
The business rates system is one of the major barriers to competitiveness for small and medium-sized enterprises. What plans do Ministers have to reform and alleviate some of that burden?
My hon. Friend will know that the Chancellor announced a full review of business rates in the last Budget. It is important to note that although that will be a proper full review looking at what sensible changes can be made, it will stay fiscally neutral, so it will not be possible to satisfy everyone.
Brighton and Hove is the most entrepreneurial city in the country but still lags behind the region for productivity. What is the Secretary of State doing to increase productivity among small businesses?
There are a number of actions that Government can take, and some of them were taken by the coalition Government and are now bearing fruit, such as cutting taxes and the employment allowance. During the lifetime of this Parliament, there will be a big focus on productivity, and there will be further measures, including on deregulation.
The last Labour Government had an appalling record on regulation, introducing something like six new regulations a day. What does my right hon. Friend think that did for the productivity of small and medium-sized companies in the UK?
I welcome my hon. Friend to the House, and he is absolutely right: the last Labour Government had an appalling record on so many things, including regulation, and the more we can keep the red tape challenge going, and our policy of one in, two out, the more we will help businesses.
In Northern Ireland 99.9% of small businesses are the core of the industrial base. They create some 347,000 jobs. What can the Secretary of State do to ensure that those jobs can be retained and more jobs can be created?
The hon. Gentleman is right to point out the importance of small businesses, particularly in the context of Northern Ireland. He will know that many of the policies that impact on small businesses in Northern Ireland are devolved, but there are a number where we can make an impact through the UK Government. One is foreign investment, which has been going up in Northern Ireland, and we will continue to focus on that.