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Business Support

Volume 611: debated on Tuesday 7 June 2016

The Government are backing small and large businesses as part of our long-term economic plan. Our corporation tax rates are the lowest in the G20 and will fall even further to 17%. In the Budget, we cut the business rates burden in England for all rate payers and ensured that 600,000 businesses permanently pay no rates at all. This is a Conservative Government who support businesses and the jobs they create.

In towns such as Newark, where 11,000 new jobs have been created under this Government, the task ahead is to attract not just any businesses but those that ensure that people are well paid. With that in mind, does the Chancellor acknowledge and agree that not only have 900,000 new businesses been created since 2010, but that the latest research by NatWest shows one in four working people are now in high-skilled, well-paid jobs?

My hon. Friend is right to point out all the good things that are happening in Newark. Across the east midlands, we have seen the creation of 53,000 new small and medium-sized businesses since we came into Downing Street—a remarkable achievement. We have to ensure that we continue to move people up the job scale and that their wages continue to grow. The good news is that of the jobs being created at the moment 80% or so are full time and the majority are in skilled occupations.

We all know the benefits of innovation to business and to the economy, so why does the Chancellor think his decision to change innovation support from grants to loans is anything other than a bad idea that will increase cost and risk to companies seeking to innovate?

I think the hon. Gentleman would accept, as I would, that it has been a challenge for the UK to turn good inventions in the laboratory into good inventions in the workplace that sell around the world. Our innovation support has had to be updated and modernised. The idea of loans is actually borrowed from a French initiative that has worked well in that economy, in terms of turning scientific invention into good products in the marketplace.

That is a rather unconvincing answer. Of course it is not simply about innovation, but exports. We all understand the benefits to business and the economy of exporting more, so why does the Chancellor think it is a remotely good idea to take the decision to cut the UK Trade & Investment budget by £42 million over the next four years, making it more difficult to export and more difficult for him to meet his own target of doubling exports by the end of the decade?

Over the past five or six years, we have greatly increased the UKTI budget, but as with every Department, since it is paid for by the taxpayers that the hon. Gentleman and I represent, we need to make sure we get value for money. The new head of UKTI is ensuring that the money is going to the frontline to support small and medium-sized Scottish exporters and others in selling around the world. He should welcome the enormous success of many Scottish businesses, from the whisky business to agricultural industries and manufacturing, in exporting around the world, with the support of UKTI—the clue is in the first two letters.

The Chancellor has introduced a subsidy for peer-to-peer lending tax relief on ISAs, which is a high-risk, high-return market. Most people support the intention, which is to increase competition in the SME lending market, but many are becoming concerned that some of these loans are being marketed to those who cannot reasonably be expected to understand the risks. What is the Treasury doing to ensure that the taxpayer does not end up encouraging the marketing of schemes to people who can least afford to lose the money?

At its own request, the peer-to-peer lending industry is now regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority, which is alert to the risks that my right hon. Friend identifies, but I wish to make a broader observation. In the financial crash, we saw the limitations of the UK’s credit system, where many companies were reliant on bank finance. In the last few years, we have tried to broaden the range of financing options for small and medium-sized businesses, in terms of not just capital markets but innovative new products such as peer-to-peer lending. Using things such as ISA wrappers to encourage this new form of finance for small businesses is a good thing for our economy.

To help Welsh businesses, will the Chancellor consider abolishing the Severn crossing tolls in 2018, rather than just halving them?

By halving the tolls, we have taken a significant step to help Welsh businesses and businesses on the other side of the border, while ensuring we have the resources to maintain the bridge without having to draw on the same taxpayers through their tax bill.

I have had business and broadband events at Easingwold, in my constituency, and this Friday we have invited several providers, including fibre and satellite providers, as well as providers of point-to-point wireless, which, in our experience, is the best solution for those in the hardest-to-reach areas. Will the Chancellor consider extending the excellent satellite voucher scheme to point-to-point wireless or allowing communities to pool vouchers to facilitate and fund community-based schemes?

I am happy to take a close look at my hon. Friend’s proposal—I know what a rural constituency he represents. We have piloted support in north Yorkshire for rural businesses and their broadband links, and as announced in the Queen’s Speech, we are considering using the digital economy Bill to make broadband a universal service obligation, because we know what a transformative effect it can have on the rural economy.

The Chancellor talks about supporting business, and like Labour I am sure he will want to see long-term sustainable business growth in Britain. After his six years at the helm, what is the forecast for business investment growth this year?

According to the forecast from the Office for Budget Responsibility, business growth this year and in the years ahead will be positive, whereas it was negative when I became Chancellor, so things are improving.

The OBR has revised down business investment growth by a huge 4.9% since November, even after taking into account the fiscal measures the Chancellor has introduced, and we know that growth could fall further if we leave the EU. The acting head of the British Chambers of Commerce recently highlighted frustration among businesses over infrastructure projects, the huge skills gap, childcare, housing and the uncertainty around the apprenticeship levy. It almost sounds like gruel today without the jam tomorrow. Does the Chancellor agree with him?

Where was Labour’s apprenticeship levy—before they complain about what we are doing? If Labour wants to contribute to this important debate about how we make our economy more productive, we will need a better contribution. The hon. Lady’s Parliamentary Private Secretary has been in an email exchange with the hon. Member for Bishop Auckland (Helen Goodman) in which the latter complained about these questions at Treasury Questions, saying that the brief she had just been sent was a disgrace and demonstrated that the Labour Treasury team—

Order. The Chancellor should remain seated. If that is the sum total of what he has to contribute on his feet in response to that question, frankly it was not worth the breath. It was utterly feeble and constitutionally improper. Learn it—it is very simple!