The Government are rightly reducing the burden of regulation for tens of thousands of small and medium-sized enterprises. Just a month ago, the presumption of exemption when Departments make regulations was extended from businesses with fewer than 50 employees to those with fewer than 500, and we expect 40,000 SMEs to benefit from that.
People in the Stroud district are looking for ways to improve the energy efficiency of their homes, but a constituent has raised with me the difficulty of securing finance for products such as solar photovoltaic and batteries. Will my hon. Friend agree to ensure that the Government work with me in looking into whether the Consumer Credit Act 1974 constitutes a barrier to banks providing finance for renewable energy solutions, and whether changes could be made to the Act to assist consumers and businesses without a cost to the taxpayer?
My hon. Friend regularly champions the cause of her constituents with Ministers. The Government are committed to reforming the Consumer Credit Act, recognising the need for modernisation of this regulation. I hope that such reform can support the vital investment needed to improve the sustainability of homes in her constituency and across the UK.
As a former small business owner in the financial services sector, I know all too well how red tape and disproportionate regulation hamper competitors in the industry, often to the detriment of consumers, particularly those who are vulnerable. The Financial Services and Markets Bill presents a great opportunity to ensure that our world-leading insurance and financial services industry remains globally competitive. Can the Minister confirm that he will take all possible steps to ensure that the Bill delivers to its full potential, with regulators being held more accountable for their decisions?
I can give my hon. Friend that assurance. As he knows, the Government are committed to effective, efficient and proportionate regulation. He has advocated a number of amendments to that Bill, and I am giving them due consideration.
A common concern for small business people I speak to, in Watford and beyond, is cash flow, which has a heavy impact on organisations, for instance when Governments make late payments. May I ask the Government to ensure that the announcement to be made this week sends the clear message that all Departments and local government bodies follow the prompt payment policy robustly and, whenever possible, encourage businesses to follow the prompt payment code, so that SMEs can be paid quickly and fully and do not suffer in the efforts to make efficiencies and savings?
I know that my colleagues will join me in paying tribute to my hon. Friend for the time that he spends helping small businesses. As he says, the Government must lead by example on prompt payment. They are committed to paying 90% of valid invoices within five days and 100% within 30 days, which is absolutely right, and the Cabinet Office’s Procurement Bill will ensure that that happens throughout the public sector.
I recently attended a meeting with business leaders in Clacton who worry about being hamstrung on the global stage. We are going to be one of the highest payers of corporation tax anywhere. Does my hon. Friend agree that, despite recent financial upheavals, we must maintain our focus on growth and support our businesses, both large and small, by keeping a firm lid on corporation tax?
I can assure my hon. Friend that the Government are on the side of small businesses and fiscal responsibly, and the introduction of the small profits rate will help the businesses that he talks about.
When the Government cut the red tape and open the box, they will find 2,400 pieces of retained EU law, so what are they going to do to help small businesses navigate all the legislation that is going to drop on them at the end of next year?
I welcome the hon. Lady’s conversion to the cause of easing the red tape that is buried within EU law. It is this Government’s objective to use our new-found freedoms to create regulations that are appropriate for the businesses of this country and that will help us to grow and deliver the prosperity we need for public services.
Some of our best SMEs are farmers and my constituency is blessed with many farms. Farmers regularly tell me that the duplication of forms is driving up prices and that pressures around energy are increasing food prices, so can the Minister set out what more meaningful support he will be giving to farmers in my constituency and across the United Kingdom? At the minute, the Government are found wanting.
Representing a rural constituency myself, I am familiar with the challenges to our food producers that the hon. Member talks about. I will ensure that the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs writes to him setting out what we are doing to ensure that we continue to have security of food supply in this country.
High street SMEs keep telling me how unfair the current business rate system is, and of course Labour agrees, so as we enter a Conservative recession, will the Chancellor follow Labour’s lead by lifting the small business rate relief for 300,000 businesses to give our high street businesses the boost they need?
The Government have committed to review business rates, but it would be wrong for me to pre-empt the outcome of that review here today.
Following the mini-Budget, the former Chancellor promised to write to me about energy bill support for a small business in my constituency. That response has yet to materialise. Will the Chancellor please look into this and provide a response that I can share with my business, Equi’s Ice Cream?
I will ensure that the case the hon. Lady raises is responded to.
I call the Member without a tie, Ben Bradley.