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Enterprise Champion

Volume 714: debated on Thursday 12 November 2009


Asked By

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what is the role of the Government’s Enterprise Champion; and how many engagements he has planned in that role.

The role of the enterprise champion is to act as an adviser to the Government and small firms. He is providing advice on business support and is helping small firms and entrepreneurs to make the most of the real help available from government and other organisations. He is championing the causes of viable small companies with banks and helping to ensure that the voices of small firms and entrepreneurs are heard by government, suppliers and other entities. He currently has eight forward engagements planned.

My Lords, is the Minister aware that it has been reported that the noble Lord, Lord Sugar, recently described struggling businessmen as “moaners”? Is he aware that many people rapidly concluded that the First Secretary of State should just summon him and say, “You’re fired”? On inquiry with the noble Lord last night, he said that his remarks had been incorrectly reported, adding that there was a recording of them, which I hope he might place in the House of Lords Library to clear this matter up once and for all. Be that as it may, would the Minister please clarify whether the noble Lord, Lord Sugar, is accountable to this House and whether, when he speaks on enterprise matters, he speaks with the full authority of the Government?

My Lords, with Sir Alan—or, I should say, my noble friend Lord Sugar—you will get sugar and spice. He has a wide-ranging career of business success. He uses colourful language forcefully. He has spoken to over 2,000 businesses across the UK. His events have been a sell-out. I could give the House many quotes complimenting him on his performance. I shall not; I shall give just one: “very open, no hidden issues, very straight responses”. I think that it was the Searchers—I am showing my age—who sang “Sugar and Spice”, so the Opposition should not search to criticise but should compliment somebody who is doing government business for nothing. I see him regularly and he is doing a good job for the Government.

My Lords, to follow up on the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Wirral, is the Minister aware that the so-called business tsar gave an interview last week in which he said that women employers are more likely than men to discriminate against other women? I quote him:

“They think to themselves, she’s young, she’s attractive, she’s going to get a boyfriend, what’s going to happen? Women think about it more than men, in my opinion”.

Is that the Minister’s opinion? Does the enterprise champion—the business tsar—speak for the Government on this issue? If not, how do they propose to distance themselves from his views on this topic?

My Lords, my noble friend Lord Sugar employs a number of women in senior positions in his business. He is fully supportive of the women’s task force recommendations, as are we. We need more women at the top of the boards of our big companies. We need more women as entrepreneurs. He fully supports that and he is speaking to a number of women’s organisations to see how he can help.

My Lords, would my noble friend agree that this downturn has caused considerable difficulties for small firms? Noble Lords on all sides of the House have been making this point in recent weeks. Would he join me in welcoming any reasonable help, assistance, advice and encouragement for small firms, irrespective of the source?

Sugar is the pill. We have 4.8 million SMEs in the UK. They are the lifeblood of the economy. The Government’s interventions, whether through the enterprise finance guarantee scheme or through a range of things such as delaying tax payments, have had a huge impact. It is clear that the banks need to be there as the economy recovers with access to finance. Therefore, experienced businesspeople, such as my noble friend Lord Sugar, provide huge assistance in helping small businesses. He is doing it for nothing. He is accountable to me and he is providing great assistance.

My Lords, will the Minister be good enough to reconsider his answer to the question asked by my noble friend Lord Hunt: when the noble Lord, Lord Sugar, speaks, does he speak with the authority of the Government?

My Lords, I should make it clear that he is accountable to me. I see him consistently. He is not a policy-maker; he is an adviser. A number of other advisers are helping us. We need advisers to help because, at the end of the day, small businesses need individuals just like the noble Lord, Lord Sugar, to help them.

My Lords, will the Minister now answer the question that has now been asked twice of him? Does the noble Lord, Lord Sugar, speak with the authority of the Government or not?

I have answered that question. He is accountable to me. I am a Minister; he is not a policy-maker but an adviser.

My Lords, the Minister referred to Sir Alan being an adviser. How many advisers do the Government currently have?

Let me be clear: he is an adviser not a policy-maker. He is giving his time for nothing. He is a hugely experienced businessman. We have a range of businesspeople, such as James Caan and Tim Berners-Lee, all providing assistance to the Government to help small businesses, which after all are the lifeblood of this economy. We need to provide them with experience and help, which is exactly what we are doing.