To turn from Marley’s ghost stalking the Labour Front Bench, the number of businesses in the UK continues to grow: at the start of 2016, there were a record 5.5 million private sector businesses, which is an increase of 97,000 since 2015 and 1 million more than in 2010.
This weekend, small businesses in my constituency held a Christmas market in Belmont Circle to celebrate the 10th anniversary of Eye 2 Eye opticians, which is doing a brilliant job locally. What more can my hon. Friend do to ensure that small and medium-sized businesses prosper and grow in this country?
My hon. Friend is right to recognise the central importance of small and medium-sized businesses to our economy. The Government have been supporting that vital sector of our economy through: the extension of small business rate relief; our support for the British Business Bank, which has dealt with more than 51,000 small businesses; the new productivity council, which was announced in the autumn statement; and the new patient capital review.
Given the number of businesses, will the Minister ensure that there is a level playing field so that the level of subsidy for tariffs applied to the motor industry is applied equally across all exporters? Will he publish the total amount of subsidy before 31 March?
There has been no special deal for Nissan or any other part of the motor industry. Whatever arrangements are made to support different sectors of the UK economy are fully transparent. The general picture is that we are proceeding vigorously and with some care towards a rather attractive destination.
My hon. and learned Friend is right. She will know that I have been a pretty tireless campaigner for superfast broadband, especially in relation to BT and Openreach. I agree with her about the importance of broadband. The autumn statement announced a £1 billion package for fibre and 5G connectivity, prioritising business connections across the UK. That follows the superfast broadband programme, which is due to deliver 91% coverage in South East Cambridgeshire by mid-2017 and a new universal service obligation.
Fifty thousand businesses die unnecessarily every year because of late payment. Some £31 billion is owed and small firms alone spend £10 billion chasing outstanding invoices. While the duty to report and the small business commissioner have been much delayed, just 378 of the largest 55,000 businesses have signed up to the prompt payment code. When will the Conservative Government start doing something about the scourge of late payment? Put some teeth into it, so that small businesses can act.
The hon. Gentleman is right to point the finger squarely at the issue of late payment. It is a serious matter that we will continue to press forward on, but one must see it in the context of the thriving small business economy that I have outlined.