It is a tremendous pleasure to speak in what has been an excellent debate. I congratulate Anne Marie Morris on securing it. She speaks about small businesses with passion, dedication, enthusiasm and considerable vim, which I can inform the House, having been at the National Association of Commercial Finance Brokers dinner with her on Tuesday, is also the way she dances.
We have heard a tremendous amount about the importance of small businesses. As the challengers of tired orthodoxies and the drivers of social mobility, small businesses share one nation Labour’s values completely. It is a path that several of us have followed, as reflected in the debate. I worked in the private sector for my entire life and was running a small business when I became a Member of Parliament. From my perspective and, clearly, that of hon. Members across the House, there are few more important questions for us to consider than how we support small firms, which we all know are the engines of growth, the biggest employers of the long-term unemployed, and key drivers of economic recovery.
It is important that we listen to what the voices of business are saying. On Monday, I was in Harlow in Essex with the local chamber of commerce, meeting small businesses there and listening to their priorities. Another organisation right at the forefront of the fight to support small firms is the Federation of Small Businesses, which does a tremendous job. A report in the Leicester Mercury this week highlighted how a delegation from the east midlands, led by David Nicholls, chairman of the Leicestershire branch of the FSB, got the chance to lobby the Chancellor on the issues that he should address in his forthcoming autumn statement. What did the delegation choose to highlight? Interestingly, the Leicester Mercury tells us that they demanded action on energy prices, a reduction in businesses rates, and the Government taking responsibility for setting up a business bank—very wise indeed.
I pay tribute to the hon. Lady for securing the debate, but think she may have done so with a slightly heavy heart, because when it comes to the main issues being raised by small businesses, it is Labour that is leading the way. I want to reflect on some of the contributions to this balanced debate that have demonstrated that.
In her excellent speech, the hon. Lady talked about the need for a culture change that recognises the importance of small business across Government. We could not agree more. My right hon. Friend Edward Miliband made making Labour the party of small business a priority in his first conference speech and he has talked about it many times since. There are some good Government schemes out there but, as the hon. Lady said, many businesses do not know about them. The signposting is weak, and she was right to say that.
My hon. Friend Mr Bain discussed the lessons we can learn from the Sparkassen in Germany. He was right to say that, under the German system and at the height of the banking crisis, they lent more to small businesses, not fewer, as happened here. He was also right to focus on the important issue of the number of businesses claiming that access to finance is still their No. 1 priority, a theme that Sir Andrew Stunell returned to a few moments ago.
The hon. Members for Norwich North (Chloe Smith) and for High Peak (Andrew Bingham) were right to focus on the difficulty faced by small and medium-sized enterprises in getting on to Government procurement lists. It has been an issue for many years and clearly there is a long way to go.
My hon. Friend Debbie Abrahams also spoke.