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Rural Microbusinesses

Volume 730: debated on Thursday 23 March 2023

8. What steps her Department is taking to support the growth of micro- businesses in rural and isolated communities. (904250)

As somebody from a business background who also represents a rural area, I fully understand the importance of provision of a range of support to help small and microbusinesses to grow, including those in rural areas. Such businesses can find support through the free business support helpline, the 38 growth hubs across England, and the newly launched “Help to Grow” website, as well as through start-up loans. I note that 240 businesses on the Isle of Wight have benefited from start-up loans.

I am delighted that that is the case. I want to tie this question into previous comments about post offices. Some microbusinesses and small businesses are incredibly reliant on post offices and sub-post offices. My sub-postmasters—Andy Smith in Ventnor was the last I spoke to, a couple of weeks ago—are increasingly concerned about the payments regime for sub-post officers. They have asked me to look into several specific instances, and I have written to the Minister about that. One area in which I think we could make improvements is banking payments. Banks are increasingly shutting down. Why? To save money. They pass the responsibilities for cash takes on to sub-postmasters, who do not get the remuneration—or anything like enough—to make it economically worthwhile. Will the Government look at the payments system, specifically in relation to banks?

That is an interesting point. That relationship between banks and post offices is important for post offices and the banks, so we urge for fair terms to be struck. We also have concerns about the banking deposit limits that were introduced recently to cover money laundering issues. I am looking into that in great detail and at great pace to ensure that those issues are resolved, because they are limiting remuneration for postmasters, too. I am very happy to take that forward.

The Minister will know that my constituency has large rural areas and lots of farmers. Like many microbusinesses, they have difficulty in getting a bank account at all. Could he do something or talk to other colleagues about it? Social and trade enterprises cannot get a bank account. Could we get some action on that?

If the hon. Gentleman writes to me about specific instances, I will be very happy to look at them. There has been a significant increase in the number of new banks entering the marketplace, such as Starling Bank and Tide, so it is getting easier to open a bank account. I know that it is difficult with some of the larger banks. I am very happy to look into the specific instances that he refers to and see if we can help.