I am new to this, Mr Speaker.
My Department works closely with other Government Departments and with firms in all sectors of the economy on a range of issues relating to the labour market and skills. That includes increasing the number of apprentices and business investment in skills development, the adoption of T-levels and skills bootcamps, and ensuring that there is better information along with easier routes into careers in a range of sectors.
Last month I held a business roundtable with the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants. It was clear that SMEs were struggling with recruitment, high energy costs, Brexit, and £20 billion worth of late payments.
When it comes to late payments, the prompt payment code does not cut it for SMEs. Will the Minister work with me to introduce legislation to outlaw late payments once and for all and give our SMEs a fighting chance?
I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman’s correspondence on this matter, and I look forward to meeting him on 7 December.
The prompt payment code, which we introduced and which we reviewed recently, will be out for consultation very shortly, and I am keen to learn from best practice how we can make it more effective. The hon. Gentleman is right to say that there are many issues facing businesses today, and we are keen to help them get through the difficulties that will no doubt continue over the next few months, but in my experience of business our best years come after our worst years, and I think we can be confident when looking ahead while also recognising that there will be difficult times in the short term.
There are many SMEs in the retail and hospital sector. It is a sector that does well in the run-up to Christmas, which gives those businesses the opportunity to make some money. What impact does the Minister think the rail strikes that are planned for next week will have on their ability to recruit more staff?
It is, of course, right that we look after the interests of business and consumers. There is no doubt that the strikes will have an impact on both parts of that sector, and it is also right for us to prioritise the needs of all consumers, not just those who are seeking to take industrial action. We urge all parties to get round the negotiating table as quickly as possible and try to reach a sensible agreement.