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Businesses: Support

Volume 605: debated on Tuesday 2 February 2016

In particular, our start-up loans scheme has provided more than 35,000 loans, worth over £192 million, and we are now putting support into growth hubs. Those are just two of the many things we are doing to encourage small businesses and give them the support they need.

I thank the Minister for that reply. What help can business people in my constituency expect from local growth hubs?

We all take the very firm view that the 39 growth hubs we have created are a really good way of making sure that small businesses get the support they need at the local level. We also take the view that the people who know best how to advise and assist businesses are business people themselves. We think that is done much better the more locally it is done, rather than doing it all from Whitehall.

Most of the lending from banks is going to medium-sized firms, but a lot of smaller firms—particularly those with fewer than 50 employees, which include start-up firms—are struggling to get long-term loans. What discussions will the Minister have, or has she had, with banks to ensure that we get better lending for small businesses?

Under our terms, any business that employs fewer than 250 people is a small business, but that does not matter, because the hon. Gentleman makes a good point. Obviously, we meet the banks and encourage them. One interesting thing is the number of businesses that are looking at alternative sources of funding, such as crowdfunding and angels. Those sources are growing as businesses begin to see the benefits of them.

Small businesses in my constituency very often start up in rural areas. What steps is the Minister taking to co-ordinate with the Department for Culture, Media and Sport on broadband connections, particularly in rural areas, which allow businesses to market themselves online?

I very much agree that this is a big problem, and not just in rural areas. The lack of superfast connectivity concerns many businesses. It has been raised by the Federation of Small Businesses, and properly so. We have put aside £1 billion to assist the programme, but I absolutely agree that more can be done. My hon. Friend can be sure that this matter is at the top of Business Ministers’ priorities. We are working hard to ensure that every business quickly gets access to superfast broadband.

What additional funding and support will be made available to encourage persons with disabilities to start small business enterprises? Will the Minister meet the all-party parliamentary group for disability to discuss the matter?

The short answer is yes, absolutely. I very much look forward to doing so, because I have no doubt that there are better things and more things that we can do. I am very happy to have those discussions.

Is the Minister aware that one of the biggest sources of capital for start-up businesses is the bank of mum and dad? Given that, will she seek in her Budget submission to have the restrictions on family investment in companies under the enterprise investment scheme and the seed enterprise investment scheme lifted?

Goodness me, it would be very dangerous for me to promise that I could deliver on that, but my hon. Friend certainly makes a very good point. Many people would not be able to start up small businesses without support not just from their parents, but from other members of the family. He makes a good point, and we are very happy to take it up.

A lot of start-up businesses in Merseyside are either in manufacturing or use buildings on former manufacturing sites, which are very large. I rarely visit such a start-up without it mentioning business rates. What representations has the Minister made to the Treasury in that regard ahead of the Budget? Will we see some relief for all the start-ups in Merseyside that are working hard in manufacturing?

As the hon. Lady knows, a full review of business rates is being undertaken. She can be absolutely assured that I and other Ministers make the case for businesses. My views are very much on the record—I think that we really do need to look at investment in plant and machinery. Everybody can be absolutely assured that we do not hesitate in putting forward our very strong views about business rates on behalf of all businesses.