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Small Businesses: Support

Volume 745: debated on Tuesday 6 February 2024

Small businesses are the engines that drive our economy and we support them to thrive using levers right across Government. Our small business rates relief means that one third of business properties in England already pay no business rates. We provide tax reliefs benefiting small and medium-sized enterprises, such as the annual investment allowance and employment allowance, and we support investment in SMEs through British Business Bank programmes and a variety of other support measures.

What consideration has been given to reducing employer national insurance contributions to help small businesses to sustain employment following the record increase in the national living wage from April, particularly in the tourism and hospitality industries?

My hon. Friend and I have spoken about these policy areas on a number of occasions. In terms of supporting small businesses, the employment allowance enables businesses with employer national insurance contributions bills of £100,000 or less to claim up to £5,000 off those bills. That was increased in April 2022 from £4,000 to £5,000, so the smallest 40% of businesses have already been taken out of paying employer national insurance contributions, and many of those are in the hospitality and leisure sector. We always keep policies under review, and I know that my hon. Friend will always be lobbying on this issue.

Becoming an entrepreneur in this country has become increasingly purgatorial over the past 25 years. Does the Minister agree that what small businessmen want is not more handouts and allowances from the Government but lower, simpler and flatter taxes, and less regulation not more? They want the Government to get off their backs and shove off.

That was very interestingly put by my right hon. Friend. I completely agree with his instincts, though, and those instincts are completely shared on the Conservative Benches. When we are able to reduce tax and release the entrepreneurial spirit, independence and innovation that exist right across the UK, the country thrives and all of us thrive.

In 2020, the former Chancellor set a public sector net investment target of 3% of GDP, but that was abandoned after the 2022 debacle and today we have the second lowest business investment among advanced economies, partly because of that failure on public sector net investment. Can the Minister offer us any reassurance on the future trajectory of public sector net investment?

Of course, Labour left us in pretty terrible financial circumstances back in 2010. Instead its figure is up £28 billion in real terms at the start of the next Parliament, an increase of 40% in real terms or 7% annually—the biggest ever published.

Small businesses are the backbone of our economy, but they have a constant problem with late payments, which increased by 7% last year, and that is driving many of them into insolvency. Given that the Government are a major contractor, what are they doing through project bank accounts to reduce the impact of late payments?

The hon. Lady makes an important point, and I know there is agreement on this issue across the Chamber. We made statements last year along those lines, putting particular pressure on the public sector. I am sure there will be continuing pressure on the private sector, too.