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Small Businesses

Volume 659: debated on Tuesday 30 April 2019

Small businesses are the backbone of our economy, employing over 16 million people, and they make a collective contribution of over £2 trillion. We have provided nearly £5.9 billion of finance to over 82,000 small businesses across the UK. We have also just announced an additional £200 million for innovation for British business.

What discussions has the Minister had with landlords running small businesses about the proposed abolition of section 21 notices? We all want to help renters, but we need to take care that we do not pass new laws that might actually make it harder for vulnerable people to get rented accommodation.

I thank my right hon. Friend for her question. We want both to encourage good landlords to stay in the sector and to make sure that proposals do not impact on supply. The Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government will be consulting landlords and looking at similar changes in Scotland. However, I reassure her that we recognise that small landlords, or incidental landlords, may have different requirements and they will therefore be very much part of the consultation.

Will the Minister join me in paying tribute to Snap-on UK Holdings in King’s Lynn in my constituency? It now employs 141 people and has recently won two Queen’s awards for enterprise and international trade. It is currently exporting to France, Poland, Italy and Spain, and it is trying to open up markets in Asia and Africa. What can she do to encourage other businesses in the country to follow Snap-on’s example and boost their exports, boost our economy and create jobs?

I thank my hon. Friend for highlighting the excellent work of Snap-on UK Holdings, which has won a Queen’s award for enterprise. Businesses in North West Norfolk have benefited from 60 start-up loans, totalling nearly £500,000. They also have the growing business fund, which provides grants of up to £500,000 per business, where there is an opportunity to innovate and grow and create jobs.

Small businesses often rely on each other for mutual support; that is certainly the case in my constituency. Will the Minister please explain to her colleagues in the Department for Work and Pensions how detrimental it would be for small businesses and the town centre economy if they relocate 250 jobs out of Merthyr Tydfil town centre as part of their push to centralise jobs and services?

The hon. Gentleman raises an important point about our high streets. Obviously, the Government play an important part in that respect in making decisions that affect our regions. I would like to reassure him about what we are doing for high streets and the retail sector. With the Retail Sector Council, we are looking at business costs and elements around skills and employment on the high street. We remain committed to making sure that our high streets remain the heart of our communities. I will make sure that I do everything in my capacity as Minister to achieve that.

Can the Minister outline any initiatives that are being considered to offset high street rates to encourage businesses to not only trade online but have a presence in local high streets? Some of my constituents have done that, and they have been quite successful.

The hon. Gentleman makes an important point with regard to traditional retail and online sales. I have spoken with the likes of Amazon and eBay, and one thing I have been extremely surprised at is that they have worked with small businesses that have started online but then invested in bricks-and-mortar retail outlets. We need to work to make sure we have a mixed economy, and I have outlined the work we are doing with the Retail Sector Council, particularly looking at business rates and other issues.

I congratulate the Minister on the work she does for small businesses. She will know that one of the major challenges small businesses face is not just with late payments but with getting prompt payments and reasonable terms from bigger businesses. Will she ensure that the Government do all they can to end the scourge of late payment? Will she also ensure that the prompt payment code has some teeth so that it actually does the job it is supposed to?

I thank my hon. Friend for highlighting prompt payment. It is a particular focus within the Department to tackle late payments, which can be very damaging to small businesses. This week, the Chartered Institute of Credit Management has announced that there are 17 businesses that I have removed or suspended from the prompt payment code to make sure that we highlight where bad practice is occurring. We want to bring business with us. We do know that late payments can have a major impact on small businesses, and I therefore stand committed to ensuring that we do all we can as a Government to end this poor practice.

This morning I met Matt Dowling of the Freelancer Club, who adumbrated to me some of the terrible situations that freelancers have faced when trying to be paid, often being coaxed into working for nothing for things like experience. Will the Minister meet me and Mr Dowling to discuss how we might crack down on that?

Absolutely. I reiterate that this Government do not support the culture of poor payments and late payments. The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right to raise the concerns of those in a particular sector who might face trouble getting paid for legitimate work. I would be very happy to meet him and that organisation.