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Small Business Sector

Volume 633: debated on Tuesday 12 December 2017

Through the industrial strategy we will drive over £20 billion of investment in innovative and high growth businesses. We will increase the national productivity investment fund to £31 billion. We are working to ensure that small and medium-sized enterprises win more public sector contracts to enjoy the benefits of that investment.

My hon. Friend the Minister will know that many local authorities have reliefs, including small business relief, which they could use. Unfortunately, not all local authorities are using them. Will my hon. Friend say what the Government could do to encourage local authorities to use those reliefs so that all small businesses benefit?

The Department for Communities and Local Government has issued clear advice to councils that will enable them to calculate the relief that is payable to businesses in the current year. I urge them to pay heed to that advice and implement it. My hon. Friend may be interested to know that Merton council has been allocated £459,000 of business rates discretionary relief in the current year.

Many small businesses are in catering and hospitality, and we of course wish them well, but when we leave a tip for staff we expect it to be paid to them, so when will the Minister publish the report on fair tips so that we can ensure that workers get paid properly?

The hon. Lady rightly raises an important issue. Following the commissioning of the work on tipping, we have issued guidance and publicised the issue. What was happening was grossly unfair. I am glad to report that there has been a significant improvement since we commissioned the review.

Unfair trading practices used by big retailers have been identified as a factor in limiting the growth of small and new businesses supplying to the groceries sector. Will the Minister therefore reassure me that the Department will be bringing forward proposals to widen the remit of the Groceries Code Adjudicator in its response to this year’s consultation?

We will be publishing our response to this year’s consultation on the future of the Groceries Code Adjudicator early next year. I have already committed to meeting my hon. Friend to discuss this with the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, my hon. Friend Member for Camborne and Redruth (George Eustice), and I look forward to that meeting.

Small business growth has been made more difficult due to the decision of the Royal Bank of Scotland to close 269 branches, which has been described as a “hammer blow” by the Federation of Small Businesses policy convenor in Scotland, who says that

“these changes will make it more difficult to run a business in much of Scotland”.

Will the Minister commit to working with the bank and her colleagues in the Treasury to ensure that the businesses and communities these branches serve are not left without the banking services they require?

The hon. Gentleman raises a crucial point of concern to communities across the country. Although there is limited action the Government can take on how banks run their businesses, we have worked with the Post Office to enable it, through its 11,600 branches nationwide, to run a full complement of services

Despite having the fifth biggest economy in the world—soon to be the sixth—the UK is ranked only 48th in the global enterprise league; 48th out of five really takes some doing. But this is not just about the lack of support for start-ups. Among small and medium-sized enterprises business confidence is falling and costs are rising, and, as the Bank of England’s figures show, access to finance is still at its lowest level since 2010. Do the Government have any excuse for their woeful failure to support our smallest businesses?

The hon. Gentleman really should stop talking small businesses down, and he is absolutely wrong in his estimate. The UK is No. 4 in the world for being the best place to start a business, and the OECD figures show that we score highly on enterprise. He does raise a valid point about growth, and we need to improve our record in supporting small businesses to grow, which is precisely why the Chancellor has made available a vast amount of money in this year’s Budget to support the growth of small businesses.[Official Report, 8 January 2018, Vol. 634, c. 2MC.]