The British Business Bank supports over £4 billion of finance to over 65,000 small businesses. The start-up loans programme has further delivered more than 54,000 loans, totalling over £400 million. We are tackling late payments through the Small Business Commissioner, and 38 growth hubs across England provide access to information and advice. Through the industrial strategy we plan to unlock over £20 billion of investment in high-potential businesses, including through establishing a £2.5 billion investment fund.
I thank the Minister for his response. As in many parts of the country, Mansfield has struggled to support shops and other town centre businesses. Will he explain what action the Government are taking to support such businesses and to regenerate what were formerly bustling town centres?
I recognise the work that my hon. Friend has done to support businesses in his constituency. The Government have made 100% small business rate relief permanent while increasing the threshold of the relief, taking 600,000 of the smallest businesses out of business rates. We have introduced the employment allowance, giving employers up to £3,000 off their national insurance contribution, and we have established the Future High Streets Forum to provide businesses with Government leadership to better enable our town centres to grow.
I recently visited the food manufacturer Scratch in my constituency, which is just launching a new dough-free pizza. It has taken on an additional 25 members of staff and has asked if more could be done to support it, particularly around reducing its business rates, which would go a long way to supporting it and the local high street.
I recognise the hon. Lady’s point. It is good to see that kind of investment and growth in small businesses. We are investing in apprenticeships and skills—44% of apprenticeship participation is in small companies—and, as part of our industrial strategy, we are establishing a technical education system that rivals the best in the world. We are also investing £406 million in subjects such as maths and digital and technical education to support the kind of small businesses she talks about.
Microbusinesses have told me that they are struggling to get their voice heard—for instance, on their concerns about implementing data protection legislation and the implications of Brexit. What is my hon. Friend doing to make sure he hears and understands the concerns of microbusinesses?
Every week, the Secretary of State meets representatives of the business community from across the country, and I hold a forum with small businesses once a month to ensure that the Government are finely attuned to their needs. The Department is determined not only to understand the issues facing small businesses in our country, such as those my hon. Friend raises, but to ensure that legislation is fit for purpose.
The all-party group on disability, which I chair, has published an inquiry report highlighting the fantastic contribution of entrepreneurs with disabilities, but they still face many challenges, such as in accessing finance. Will the Secretary of State meet the all-party group to discuss this issue and ensure a truly inclusive economy?
I thank the hon. Lady for the question and the great work the all-party group does. I absolutely recognise that encouraging people with disabilities to start their own businesses and contribute in this way is good not only for the British economy but for them. I would be delighted to meet her to discuss the matter further and to see what we can do to support those businesses, particularly through things such as the British Business Bank.
Project bank accounts ring-fence the money for suppliers in construction contracts yet were not used by the Government with Carillion. As a result, 30,000 mostly smaller businesses are likely to lose money, and some will struggle to survive, so will the Minister confirm that the Government will now use project bank accounts to protect businesses and jobs in their own supply chain and guarantee there is no repeat of the Carillion fiasco?
The hon. Gentleman will know that the Government took swift action, led by the Secretary of State, when Carillion collapsed, to ensure we understood the issues relating to the construction industry, including by setting up a forum with trade representatives. He will also be aware that we consulted on project bank accounts in the construction industry. That consultation finished just a few weeks ago. We are considering the responses and will respond shortly.