Small Businesses

Part of Prayers – in the House of Commons at 10:35 am on 15th May 1987.

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Photo of Mr Roger King Mr Roger King , Birmingham, Northfield 10:35 am, 15th May 1987

Building living accommodation into nursery units is a matter for private developers. Perhaps such a scheme has not occurred to them, or perhaps there is some reason why it cannot be done. No Government diktat is needed. The Government do not need to say, "Thou shalt build living accommodation onto industrial units over 2,000 sq ft." Private developers, of which there are many in the west midlands, should examine ways of providing on-site assistance. We already have a type of enterprise zone and I see no difficulty, perhaps through inner city partnerships, about developing enterprise shopping areas.

The hon. Member for Easington (Mr. Dormand) asked where the money would come from. There is a move towards hypermarket developments outside city centres. Authorities could consent to planning permission on the understanding that the hypermarkets pay a levy to subsidise a small enterprise shopping area in the city centre. The hypermarket would help subsidise the small business which in some cases has to close because it cannot compete with the hypermarket. We have to get the balance right and adjusting the fiscal problems would be a step in the right direction. Our Asian and West Indian friends would be delighted to open more small businesses in cities but they are deferred by high rates. Government reforms in relation to the community charge and the national rating charge will encourage small businesses.

I am worried about our insolvency rules, particularly as they affect directors' responsibility. In my experience there are times when a small embryonic business is technically insolvent. A business can come unstuck if an accountant says that the business is insolvent at one particular time. He will say, "You took a risk, so you're for the high jump." That does not encourage the entrepreneur to take the risks necessary to put his tiny embryonic enterprise on to the bottom league of business. We should extend more benevolence to directors who fall foul of the insolvency laws. They should not be strung up as an example.

Much comment is made about the late payment of bills. I fear legislation which will make all businesses pay bills within a certain time. Many a small business has to decide which bills to pay. The business man might want to keep his raw materials coming in so he will pay his supplier but not pay the carton supplier. A time limit will create cash flow problems for the small business as it seeks to break out of the straightjacket of bills and costs.

Product liability also causes concern. The technical resources for innovation so that a business can break into the market place are limited. Some costs of product liability, particlarly when one is exporting to overseas countries such as the United States, are substantial. I am not sure how one can get round the problems of being refused an insurance policy to cover one's product liability. That is one of the big hurdles that a small business faces. In my experience it was difficult to get hold of the sort of liability cover that we wanted when making wheels and seats. We might have given up if the market in the United States had not been such a good one to go for.

There is still the difficulty of the gap between those with ideas and those with money. We need to encourage further steps to bring the two sides together. I am tempted to suggest the idea of a small firms broker, who would have the job of introducing those with money to those with businesses. Perhaps the banks should play a greater role by taking initiatives and saying publicly that they are in the business of creating small businesses and want to go hell for leather to that end. They must have special departments for that, and people to make the introductions on a friendly basis, rather than merely doling out money for cash-flow forecasts, and the nice talk of promoters, in some cases only to find that there are problems later on.

I also want to pay tribute to the work of Peat Marwick McLintock in the Midland areas, which has come out with a "Businessman's Guide to Grants and Incentives in the Midlands". It is an excellent booklet, which illustrates the plethora of opportunities for assistance and grants that is available for small businesses in the midlands. That, too, goes a long way to helping small businesses develop.

All too often we hear of those who are not able to offer the security that is necessary for those who wish to lend money. A good idea can fall as a result of not obtaining the necessary funding. I wonder whether a special scheme could be introduced in inner city partnership areas under which the Government would allocate a small amount of risk capital for new business start-ups. That could work within the existing ICP scheme; perhaps a small firms board could be created within that scheme for the inner city areas. Such help would probably only be available after the first year of a new business's operations. Initially, people would be on their own, starting, say, a welding or accident repair business. I mention the inner city because many of our West Indian friends find it particularly hard to start a business. Perhaps, ultimately, those people hold the key to our inner city rejuvenation. I do not like the thought of zeroing in on a particular minority to give the people who comprise it special help that is not available to others—it should be available to everyone. However, in our inner city areas there are still opportunities for West Indians and Asians to create their own business—a far more difficult proposition than it is for the indigenous population.

The Government have a record of which they can be proud. One looks in vain for the ideas of other parties. One finds them wanting, if they are mentioned at all. We have made several significant steps over the past few years. I am sure that we shall make many more over the next five years, and progress should he maintained. Within the small business sector lies the hope and salvation of many of our people and great cities—small businesses with the skills that are necessary to drive us forward towards the latter part of the century into a post-industrial society, but nevetheless, a business-oriented society. I am convinced that the next Conservative Government will rise to the challenge.