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Small Business Support

Volume 723: debated on Tuesday 29 November 2022

It is a delight to be part of a ministerial team of whom many members actually have a business background. We are for business because we are from business, and we know what it is like to lie awake at night worrying about how to pay the bills.

The reversal of the national insurance rise will save small businesses an average of approximately £4,200 a year, alongside the cut to fuel duty for 12 months and the energy bill relief scheme. The British Business Bank supports small and medium-sized enterprises to access growth finance.

From Muswell Hill to Myddleton Road, from Turnpike Lane to Hornsey High Street, we are celebrating Small Business Saturday in my constituency this weekend. There are two major concerns on the mind of small businesses. The first is the business rates expense. When will the Minister consider reforming it to help small business? The second is a wider question for business and trade unions about retained EU legislation, which is providing a lot of uncertainty in the business community and a drag on growth. When will the Government come out with a decision on that crucial issue?

I am grateful for the hon. Lady’s question, especially the part about Small Business Saturday. As hon. Members can imagine, I will be spending much of the day visiting small businesses across my constituency. I will also shortly be attending a House of Lords reception to celebrate the 100 small businesses recognised in the programme.

As the hon. Lady knows, in the autumn statement my right hon. Friend the Chancellor announced £13.6 billion of support for businesses over the next five years, reducing the burden of business rates for SMEs. Of course we all want to see reform, but simply announcing the scrapping of business rates without announcing any replacement cannot be the right thing, because it does not give business the certainty that it needs. That is the sensible reform that I think the hon. Lady should be grateful for.

May I put it on the record that as well as being the week of Small Business Saturday, this is Family Business Week? I had the opportunity to visit Tony at Croxley Hardware a few weeks ago. Does the Minister agree that small businesses are the lifeblood not only of the economy, but of our communities?

I thank my hon. Friend for his recognition of the small businesses in his constituency. He is absolutely right: there is no greater force behind the supply side of the economy than small businesses, which are essential to prosperity and productivity. He is absolutely right to champion their cause, and we should all join him in that endeavour.

There has been some talk about business rates. I appreciate what the Minister says about needing a proper plan. Businesses in my constituency tell me that business rates are their big bête noire and that reforming and replacing them would make their lives a lot easier and their survival more certain. Will he give some indication of the Government’s thinking, and of the timescale in which they might be looking at the matter? Labour is proposing a radical reform.

Well, Labour is proposing a radical reform, but we cannot quite work out whether it will scrap business rates or reform them. There have been mixed messages among Labour Front Benchers—indeed, among the shadow Chancellor and the Leader of the Opposition—so we are not quite sure what Labour’s policy will be. We are certainly not sure how it would replace the £25 billion to £30 billion of revenue. I would really like to understand that.

This is a thorny issue, because if we scrapped business rates the taxpayer would have to find that huge amount of money by some other means. The right thing to do right now is to see businesses through this very difficult time with the kind of concession that we have made, such as the £13.6 billion, rather than making irresponsible and in my view undeliverable promises to completely scrap business rates.

Essex Linen Services, which provides laundry services to hospitals and hotels, is struggling to survive because of electricity prices. It believes that its sector has been left out of the energy support packages. Will the Minister agree to review the situation for providers of laundry services and see whether they can be supported in paying their electricity bills in future?

All businesses have access to the energy bill relief scheme. There are concerns about which sectors will be covered by the revised scheme. We will have details on that by the end of the year; the Government have committed to that. Clearly we are trying to balance the interests of the taxpayer, who has to fund this, with those of business. It is right that we focus on businesses that cannot mitigate their energy use, by whatever means, or pass on the costs to consumers. My hon. Friend is absolutely right to raise the interests of the sector.

I grew up in a small family business. Labour is proud to be supporting Small Business Saturday and its 10th anniversary, and to have supported last week’s family business week.

Small and medium-sized enterprises are indeed the lifeblood of our economy, but they have been hit hard by 12 years of Tory failure and staggeringly low growth. Even after three Prime Ministers this year, the Government have no answers—and the House should not just take that from me; the Federation of Small Businesses judged the autumn statement as being

“low on wealth-creation, piling more pressure on the UK’s 5.5 million small businesses”.

If the Government are really serious about helping small businesses to grow, is it not time they adopted Labour’s plan to reform business rates, back our high streets, make Brexit work, and make Britain the best place in which to start and grow a business?

As one who was in business in 2010, I remember very well what the economy was like in that year, when we took over from Labour: it was not having a good time. [Interruption.] Yes, it is a lot stronger now.

We should bear in mind that while we can choose our own opinions, we cannot choose our own facts, and the facts are that the UK has experienced the third fastest growth in the G7 since 2010—behind only the United States and Canada—and has grown faster than Germany since 2016. It is right that we seek to provide new solutions for businesses; we have to stimulate the supply side of the economy, not least because that is good not only for businesses but for consumers. However, as I said earlier, simply claiming that you are going to scrap business rates without saying how you are going to replace that £25 billion of revenue is highly irresponsible.