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Self-employment

Volume 620: debated on Tuesday 31 January 2017

The gov.uk website and the business support helpline provide information on starting and running a business. Growth hubs also provide access to local and national support. Some 4.8 million people are currently self-employed.

When I started a business, I found that one of the most intimidating elements was employing my first member of staff. What more can the Government do to encourage and support the self-employed to grow their company and become employers in their own right?

We will support entrepreneurs across the UK to ensure that they can access finance and wider support so that they can grow. British Business Bank programmes are already supporting £3.2 billion of finance to more than 51,000 smaller businesses, including start-up loans to 39 entrepreneurs in my hon. Friend’s Braintree constituency.

This matter is particularly close to my heart, given that I was self-employed until a few months ago. Of course, there are many self-employed businesses in rural areas of West Oxfordshire. Can the Minister assure us that the Government will continue to make it easier to start and grow a business by deregulating, creating an attractive tax environment, and helping businesses to attract and seek the finance that they need?

We continue to work hard to make the UK a great place to start and grow a business. According to OECD statistics, we are internationally the third best place to start a businesses, but we are 13th when it comes to the best place to grow a business, which is where my focus as small business Minister is going to lie. I very much welcome the support of my hon. Friend.

North Kensington, an area that the Minister knows, has several fantastic initiatives through which new start-ups have access to shared space. Are there any plans to reduce business rates and provide relief for small companies using shared space initiatives?

The Treasury has no plans specifically for shared work spaces, but at the last Budget, the Chancellor announced £6.7 billion of cuts to benefit all business rate payers. They include permanently doubling small business rate relief and increasing the thresholds from 2017.

Will my hon. Friend tell us how the industrial strategy will support disabled people who want to start and grow their own businesses?

The disabled employment programme is an important part of our work in labour markets, and it is backed by many top retailers. We will continue to press this issue and work with the Department for Work and Pensions for greater access to work for people with disabilities.

In order to grow the businesses of the self-employed, they need access to good-quality training. When I met the Doncaster YMCA and its apprentices last week, an issue was raised about clarity regarding funding during the transitional arrangements for the Skills Funding Agency going to the Department for Education. Will the Minister take an urgent look at this?

I thank the right hon. Lady for bringing this to our attention. A new approach to improving access to skills and apprenticeships is a fundamental part of our new industrial strategy. I will raise the matter that the right hon. Lady mentions with the Secretary of State for Education.

Many self-employed people recruit apprentices and others who are seeking employment. Given that the report recently produced by the Institute for Fiscal Studies cast doubt on the effectiveness of apprentices, the training scheme and the apprenticeship levy, what are the Government going to do about this?

Last week the Government launched the new industrial strategy, and the new academies programme for improving skills and access to apprenticeships is working with the existing apprenticeship programme to improve both the quality and number of apprentices.

Given that further education colleges have an important role in providing skills and training and help many people to become self-employed workers, does it make sense to cut their budgets?

Further education colleges remain an important part of our strategy to improve skills and access to apprenticeships, but they are not the only route to apprenticeships. The apprenticeship levy will increase funding for overall access to skills for our young people.

Compulsory quarterly digital tax updates cause real concern to self-employed people and small businesses. Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs says that support is available. Will the Minister tell us what support is available to self-employed businesses and how much money is set aside for that support?

I am sorry; I did not follow all the hon. Gentleman’s question. However, I know that the Treasury is looking into the fairness of taxation as between self-employed people and the rest of the workforce. I will read the hon. Gentleman’s question in Hansard and write to him accordingly.

The ranks of self-employed people are being expanded by an increase in independent working. Will my hon. Friend ensure that labour market regulations are updated so that employee rights are maintained?

I very much agree with the thrust of my hon. Friend’s question. The Prime Minister has appointed Matthew Taylor to undertake a review of employment practices in the modern economy to ensure that while we embrace new technologies, we also protect workers’ rights.

What are the Government doing about the scourge of bogus self-employment, which too often is a rip-off of the workers concerned and a rip-off of HMRC?

The Taylor review will also look into that very important issue. A worker’s contract with his or her employer is the fundamental basis on which he or she is judged to be self-employed or an employee, and that distinction will be closely scrutinised by Matthew Taylor.