Small Business

Oral Answers to Questions — Trade and Industry – in the House of Commons at 11:30 am on 7th April 2005.

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Photo of Mr Archie Norman Mr Archie Norman Conservative, Tunbridge Wells 11:30 am, 7th April 2005

What steps she is taking to promote small business growth.

Photo of Nigel Griffiths Nigel Griffiths Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department of Trade and Industry

Many small businesses are the economic dynamos of our economy and to promote small business growth, among other things, we raised the VAT threshold to the highest in Europe, abolished automatic fines for late payment for 200,000 small businesses, introduced a flat-rate VAT scheme to cut red tape for up to 700,000 small and medium-sized enterprises, and abolished corporation tax for 150,000 businesses. Our Phoenix fund has helped more than 89,000 people from disadvantaged areas to start and grow SMEs, and our nine regional venture capital funds have made 199 investments, totalling £37 million.

Photo of Mr Archie Norman Mr Archie Norman Conservative, Tunbridge Wells

Since this is the last chance that I will have to do so, may I gently remind the Minister that the biggest gift that this Government can give to small business is to reduce the burden of regulation that has increased so much under them? Has he noticed that the Chancellor has committed to implement in full the Arculus report, which includes the principle of regulatory budgets and a one in, one out principle for new regulation, yet the Secretary of State has already committed, if re-elected, to new regulations that will cost small business up to £200 million to £300 million in additional regulatory burdens, according to her own Department's impact assessments? Which equivalent regulations do the Government plan to withdraw?

Photo of Nigel Griffiths Nigel Griffiths Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department of Trade and Industry

The hon. Member is leaving the House, and the House will be the poorer for losing somebody with business experience. We all wish him well.

Yes, of course, we have read the Arculus report. As the Secretary of State and the Chancellor have made clear, elements of it are being examined and are being implemented—in fact, the bulk of the recommendations—but I do not take lessons from the party that introduced 51,599 regulations. The important thing is that the way we have tackled regulations means that a record number of small businesses started in Britain last year, and the survival rates are the best for a decade. Last year, 445,000 businesses were started. That is more than 1,000 businesses for every working day. We are the party of business growth.

Photo of Mr Peter Pike Mr Peter Pike Labour, Burnley

Does my hon. Friend accept that the Northwest Development Agency, and indeed development agencies generally, have an important role to play? Are not business growth and small businesses encouraged by actions that they are taking in many places in the country, including the former Michelin site in Burnley, which is being brought back into use for small businesses?

Photo of Nigel Griffiths Nigel Griffiths Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department of Trade and Industry

My hon. Friend has been a powerful advocate for his area and for business and jobs growth as well. We will certainly be sorry to lose him and wish him well. He is right about the important role played by the regional development agencies and the importance of the support they receive from the DTI, which, under the Conservative party, would be abolished, with all the threat to jobs and growth that that would bring about.

Photo of Henry Bellingham Henry Bellingham Shadow Minister (Business, Innovation and Skills), Shadow Minister

Our plan is not to abolish the DTI but to set up a department for business that will focus on entrepreneurship and on really helping small businesses.

As this is the last DTI questions before the election, may I say what a pleasure it has been to shadow the hon. Gentleman? Although we disagree on regulation and despite the fact that he has not answered the question put by my hon. Friend Mr. Norman, he has been a doughty champion of small businesses and we admire his energy.

What has happened to the National Audit Office value-for-money report on the Small Business Service, which the NAO assures me has been finished and is awaiting clearance by the Secretary of State? Will it be cleared before the election?

Photo of Nigel Griffiths Nigel Griffiths Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department of Trade and Industry

The NAO is a much respected organisation. It spends a great deal of time on its reports and makes many thoughtful points, and it would be wrong of any Minister to jump to hasty conclusions. The report is being studied in detail and I am sure that it will inform Government policy when we come back after the election.