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Starting and Growing Businesses

Volume 649: debated on Tuesday 20 November 2018

12. What progress he has made on meeting the Government’s ambition to make the UK the best place in the world to start and grow a business. (907702)

14. What progress he has made on meeting the Government’s ambition to make the UK the best place in the world to start and grow a business. (907704)

15. What progress he has made on meeting the Government’s ambition to make the UK the best place in the world to start and grow a business. (907705)

Our business environment is among the best in the world for small businesses. We have 16.3 million people employed in small businesses and the British Business Bank is supporting small businesses with over £5.5 billion of finance—and colleagues on all sides of the House will wish to support small business Saturday on 1 December.

Earlier this year, Ideal Foods, a small business in my constituency, celebrated a huge milestone when it achieved a turnover of £10 million in just one year. Another business, the Cornish Cheese Company, has just been awarded the super gold award for its Cornish blue cheese. Does my right hon. Friend agree that these are shining examples of the importance of embracing global trade after we leave the European Union?

I do indeed, and I congratulate Ideal Foods and the Cornish Cheese Company. Perhaps I can add one of my own: Cornish Charcuterie, based just outside Bude, is one of my favourites, and I know that it has many satisfied customers across the UK and Europe, and increasingly around the world. This shows that, of all the manifold assets that Cornwall has, its food and indeed its drink are something to boast about.

More than 355 new businesses have been started up in my constituency since 2010. Many of them are microbusinesses with only one or two employees, and their needs are very different from those of the larger small and medium-sized businesses. What additional support can the Department give to those microbusinesses to help them to thrive?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right to suggest that microbusinesses, and indeed start-ups, sometimes face challenges in accessing finance. The British Business Bank has a programme to focus on microbusinesses. Start-up loans, from which 44 businesses in her constituency have benefited, are also important.

Late payments are a real problem for small businesses. What steps is the Secretary of State taking to tackle that?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right, and she will know that we are taking steps to reinforce in statute some of the measures that have been good practice across the industry. Indeed, the small business commissioner has been appointed to the prompt payment code compliance board to help with that.

Does the Secretary of State truly believe that what has been negotiated with the European Union will be better for jobs and business than the deal we have now?

If the hon. Lady was at the CBI conference yesterday, and if she has read the responses from businesses small and large up and down the country, she will know that they are very clear that this deal will help to create the confidence that will allow investment to be made and jobs to be created and preserved across the country.

The small businesses and manufacturers in my constituency are telling me that their biggest challenge right now is recruiting skilled labour. That challenge is set to get worse for them as we approach Brexit. Will the Secretary of State explain to them how stopping freedom of movement is going to help them with access to skilled labour for their manufacturing and their research and development?

One of the reasons why companies up and down the country sometimes find it a struggle to recruit people is that we have such a low level of unemployment in this country. I would have thought that the hon. Gentleman would recognise that. He knows that one of the benefits of leaving the European Union is that our migration policy will be set in this country according to the needs of our economy—so it’s over to us.

The Prime Minister’s botched Brexit deal creates uncertainty for business. The lack of any commitment to permanent customs arrangements means that there is no guarantee of tariff-free, frictionless trade. Frankly, I am amazed that any Business Secretary would put their name to this deal. Without any commitments to frictionless trade, how can the Government claim to be helping business?

I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman has read the proposed agreement, but business leaders certainly have, and they have been warmly supportive of it. There are good reasons for that. One of the things that businesses have asked for is a transition period leading up to an agreement that we should be able to trade without tariffs, without quotas and without frictions. This agreement provides for that, which is one reason why it has been endorsed by businesses up and down the country.