Jobs and Work

Part of G7 – in the House of Commons at 2:20 pm on 11th June 2014.

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Photo of Vincent Cable Vincent Cable The Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills 2:20 pm, 11th June 2014

Yes, there are, and that is a very good example. We had an earlier exchange on the aerospace industry. One of the major accomplishments of the industrial strategy is that we now have a partnership stretching between Parliaments, guaranteeing large-scale investment by the Government as well by industry, and that is one of the factors contributing to the confidence that my hon. Friend described.

In my concluding remarks, I want to refer to the specific measures introduced in the small business Bill, which will support small business. Let me say at the outset that I fully accept the shadow Secretary of State’s point that one of the central issues affecting small business is access to bank credit. It remains a very big issue, and it is not difficult to understand why. We had the biggest banking crisis in our history going all the way back to the beginning of the 19th century. We have never had anything on this scale, and Britain was uniquely affected because of the scale of banks in the UK relative to GDP—it is higher, I think, than in any other country except Iceland—and, again, the Labour Government had responsibility at the time. The effect of the bank collapse and the subsequent deleveraging that has taken place, particularly in RBS, have been deeply damaging to business. We understand that and are taking steps to deal with it.

The British Business bank is now playing a significant part. Over the past year, I think there have been net flows of £660 million into the small business sector. That is a mixture of new flows to organisations such as Funding Circle and to the challenger banks, together with the guarantee schemes, which have increased by a factor of 75% since they came under the Business bank.

We are running up a downward-moving escalator, but the Government accept that we have a responsibility to intervene heavily to support like lending in the wake of an extremely damaging banking crisis. That is the context in which we are operating. The Bill will contain a series of measures that will help further. Late payment is a massive issue for small businesses, with something in the order of £30 billion in outstanding payments. The legislation will introduce a requirement on companies to be much more transparent in how they deal with late payments.

We also want to introduce much more competition in banking, to ensure that banks will come forward and lend to small businesses. Within the last year, we have seen the creation of a whole set of new banks, supported by the Business bank. The big obstacle—which I recall describing in the House 15 years ago at the time of the Cruickshank report—is the fact that the four leading banks had a stranglehold over the process through the payments system. We have introduced a new form of regulation of the payments system, opening it up to competition and preventing the kind of stranglehold that the existing banks have. The Bill will enable that to happen. In addition, we want to ensure that we have a proper system of data sharing. The lack of such a system is one of the obstacles to new banks coming in and competing. There are also problems with export finance, but the new Bill will enable us to extend export finance into new areas.

The shadow Secretary of State talked about the small business measures having taken a long time, and we accept that. There has been a massive consultation on pubs, for example. It has gone on for many years—indeed, it started long before this Government came into office—but we are now taking action. There will be a statutory code and an arbitration body. There will also be an option for an independent, market-based rent review. I am sure that we will discuss this legislation extensively, but it does represent action after many years of pressure from the Select Committee and from other Members.

Other business measures will include those relating to public procurement. This Government have opened up public procurement in central Government to small business in a way that has never happened before, but that has not always happened throughout the wider public sector, including local government. The measures that we are introducing in this big Bill will considerably improve practice in public procurement, opening up the rest of the public sector.