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Small Businesses

Volume 664: debated on Tuesday 1 October 2019

A new business starts in the UK every 75 seconds. Following the patient capital review, we announced a £20 billion action plan to finance growth in innovative firms. To support that, we have established a new business finance council to ensure that Government, banks and other lenders work together to help small and medium-sized enterprises to access the finance that they need.

I welcome all of the Treasury team to their places and thank the former Chancellor, my right hon. Friend the Member for Runnymede and Weybridge (Mr Hammond), for letting me work so closely with him. It was an amazing privilege.

I spent an amazing day with my constituency businesses in the village of Beckley. They are concerned about business rates, on which I support their call for reform, as well as about the VAT threshold and lack of taper. They will also now be writing to me about the welcome increase to the national living wage. Can we do more to support small businesses? They are the backbone of rural economies and without them we will not have employment.

I thank my hon. Friend for his question and take this chance to thank him, on behalf of the Government, for the work he did with the former Chancellor. He is quite right to talk about tax reform. Of course, since 2016 we have announced business rates reforms and reductions worth more than £13 billion by 2023-2024. On VAT, in the run-up to the 2018 Budget we consulted on the threshold, which is the highest in the EU and the OECD. We have committed to keep that in place until 2022, but I am genuinely always interested in suggestions that I can discuss with colleagues.

When is the Minister going to do something about the delays in payment to small businesses that often affect their cash-flow? We have debated the issue for many years; is it not about time that the Minister did something about it?

Responsibility for this issue falls between the Treasury and the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy. A late-payment regulator has been set up. I talked about this issue with businesses at the Conservative party conference on Sunday; I take it very seriously and they highlighted it as an ongoing concern. It should come out loud and clear from the House that all businesses, particularly larger ones, have a responsibility to meet their payment terms, because that is crucial for small businesses. I think everyone in the House can unite around that common principle.

Is the Minister aware that one of the main difficulties facing small rural businesses is the non-availability of fast and reliable broadband? In the light of the announcement that the Chancellor made yesterday in Manchester, can we now assume that the days in which a geographically isolated business is also digitally isolated really are numbered?

My right hon. Friend is of course absolutely right that broadband connectivity lies at the heart of a modern economy. It was so welcome to hear my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer yesterday set out how £5 billion of investment is going to be devoted to making sure that we can deliver on the Prime Minister’s pledge to ensure full fibre broadband access by 2025.

Will the Minister outline whether he has considered tax incentives for businesses to take on apprentice staff in administrative roles, with special reference to young people from learning-difficulty backgrounds, who take more time and patience to train? There are simply not enough places available; will the Minister undertake to make places available?

Again, that is a unifying principle to bring to the House. The Government have done an awful lot to try to promote the uptake of apprentices—we have seen action on things such as national insurance to try to make it more affordable for businesses to employ young people. The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy is very interested in all the work that goes on around supporting access into work for disabled people and people with learning disabilities, and would be interested to hear more from the hon. Gentleman about those ideas.