Improving access to finance is the mission of the British Business Bank, which addresses gaps in the finance market through guarantees and through debt and equity finance. The bank recently launched an online finance hub to help entrepreneurs identify the most suitable finance options for their needs. It is currently supporting about £5.2 billion of finance to almost 75,000 businesses across the United Kingdom.
I thank my hon. Friend for her response. As somebody who campaigned to get her elected, may I say how good it is to see her on the Front Bench?
Small businesses play an important role in my constituency’s economy. Will my hon. Friend tell me what the Government are doing to tackle the late payment culture, which has such a negative effect on small businesses?
I thank my hon. Friend for his kind words. It is great to be answering a question from him at my first Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy oral questions today. I know his constituency well, and I know that he represents the interests of his small businesses.
It is true to say that late payments are an issue that we want to tackle. Debt to small and medium-sized enterprises has halved since 2012. We have established a Small Business Commissioner, and introduced a requirement for large businesses to report publicly on their payment practices. However, we want to go further and bring in new measures to underpin the prompt payment code. We work closely with the Federation of Small Businesses, which has said that
“it is good to see the government getting serious about this issue, especially when it comes to large firms paying their supply chains promptly.”
What specific programmes are available to coastal businesses in towns such as Southend-on-Sea that not only benefit hospitality businesses but help high streets that are sometimes suffering?
I thank my hon. Friend for his question, and I know what a champion he is particularly for that industry in his constituency. The coastal communities fund supports jobs and growth in coastal towns. Projects are forecast to deliver more than 18,000 jobs and £363 million in new visitor spending, benefiting local businesses along seafronts and in coastal towns. In England, the local enterprise growth hubs in coastal areas also provide local business support and advice. Retail and hospitality businesses in coastal towns benefit from those national programmes as much as they do from business rates relief, business improvement districts and the business support helpline.
There are a range of options to support all kinds of SMEs and social enterprises in the current system. We have launched a finance hub which, with the British Business Bank, is available for organisations to get in touch with. A whole range of finance is available for different types of organisations. As MPs, we have a duty to make sure that our constituents and the businesses operating in our constituencies are aware of Government information, so that might be useful in future.
Order. It is very good to see the hon. Member for Motherwell and Wishaw back in the House. As she knows, I once fought her constituency, but unfortunately for me it fought back. I call Mrs Marion Fellows.
And it continues to fight, as do I. Thank you all.
Some of our most important small businesses are local post offices. In 2017-18, post office profits rose to £35 million, while postmaster pay was cut by £17 million. Communities and the Post Office are facing a crisis as more and more postmasters resign, as they are undervalued and underpaid while executives receive a pay rise. What are the UK Government going to do to support sub-postmasters and make their businesses financially viable?
Fundamentally, the Government absolutely support the post office network, and we are determined to make sure that it is provided across the country. As the Minister with responsibility for post offices, I have taken a particular interest in that since taking up my role. I am determined to make sure that we keep the network running across all parts of the country to benefit our communities.
The British Business Bank is simply not reaching most businesses that need support. Only 12% of members of the Federation of Small Businesses apply for external finance, and two thirds of those applications are rejected. In the spirit of cross-party co-operation, how about setting up a network of regional development banks to deliver business finance where it is most needed? The Government have stolen a number of our policies—why not that one?
I must remind the hon. Gentleman that the British Business Bank has access to the £20 billion investment in the industrial strategy. Through our start-up loan scheme, we have made 57,000 loans, delivering £436 million in finance and creating more than 56,000 jobs. Access to finance has improved a great deal since I became an MP. The hon. Gentleman served on the Committee on which we made invoice financing another option for many small businesses.