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Small Business Growth

Volume 623: debated on Tuesday 14 March 2017

I am glad that the hon. Lady is so keen to hear my answer to this question.

We support small business growth by ensuring that small businesses can access finance and wider support. The British Business Bank is already supporting more than 54,000 smaller businesses with £3.4 billion of finance, and I am leading a taskforce to enable SMEs to accelerate their growth potential and realise their growth prospects quicker.

I know that Rugby is a great place to run a business, but many small businesses continue to tell me that an obstacle to their expansion is still a shortage of suitable industrial premises. At a time when our authority is preparing its local plan, what discussions has my hon. Friend had with her counterparts in the Department for Communities and Local Government to ensure that adequate land is allocated for the development of business units?

We work closely with the Department for Communities and Local Government, and I recently co-chaired a successful roundtable with my hon. Friend the Minister for Housing and Planning and providers of finance. We will be having a further meeting, and I shall obviously consider the needs of businesses in Rugby for more space.

Small businesses in Doncaster have expressed concern to me about how they can access apprenticeship schemes. Will the Minister work with the Department for Education and draw up a regional analysis—especially for Yorkshire and the Humber—of how small businesses can access those schemes effectively, particularly in the light of the apprenticeship levy?

We will certainly talk to businesses in the Doncaster region, as well as to those elsewhere in Yorkshire, but I am delighted to say that only 1.3% of businesses will actually pay the apprenticeship levy. For all other businesses, particularly small businesses, the Government will fund 90% of training costs following the introduction of the levy proper next month.

Last week’s announcement on business rates by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor will provide welcome relief to hundreds of independent small businesses in my constituency. Will the Minister join me in congratulating our tourist management organisation, Visit Bath, as it focuses more attention on the marketing of our independent small businesses in Bath in domestic and international markets, which will bring jobs and growth to my constituency?

I absolutely join my hon. Friend in congratulating Visit Bath on all the trade and ideas that it brings to SMEs in his constituency.

As chair of the all-party group on disability, I have been hearing from disabled entrepreneurs that they still have to face far too many barriers, including with regard to access to affordable loans, peer mentoring and information, even through the Government Gateway. What specific measures are the Government taking to support disabled entrepreneurs and what more can be done to address these very important issues?

I thank the hon. Lady for her excellent question. I work closely with the Minister for Disabled People, Health and Work, who is leading huge initiatives to improve opportunities for people with disabilities. I will raise with my hon. Friend the specific question of entrepreneurs with disabilities.

The truth is that the Government have to show a lot more love for small businesses to reinforce the truth that the Conservatives are the party for entrepreneurs. Will my hon. Friend start that by eliminating the time limits on the enterprise investment scheme for small businesses, and by finding a way, after we leave the EU, of reducing the compliance with regulations for small businesses to a single check mark?

As my hon. Friend knows, I am a great lover of small businesses and entrepreneurs, and I think that I can speak for the rest of the Government in that regard. He knows that the EU governs time limits and caps on the EIS at the moment. What happens following the Brexit negotiations will be a matter for the Treasury.

I do not think that small businesses are really feeling the love after last week’s Budget. A report by the Federation of Small Businesses entitled “37 problems and tax is one” states that the

“proposed National Insurance tax grab on this group is an absolute kick in the teeth, just at a time when we need to create more entrepreneurs, not fewer.”

The Minister says that the Government consult the Federation of Small Businesses, but perhaps they might listen to it in future and do what it suggests as well.

The small business world must feel more love from this Government than it would from Labour, were it to take our place in government.

On the hon. Gentleman’s specific question, I know that the FSB lobbied hard on a number of points, including national insurance, business rates and the quarterly reporting of tax accounts. On the latter two, it was very pleased with what the Chancellor provided. With regard to national insurance, the hon. Gentleman knows that more than 60% of people who are self-employed will actually benefit from the changes mooted by the Chancellor last week.