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Economy: Growth — Motion to Take Note

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 7:29 pm on 29th January 2013.

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Photo of Lord Kirkham Lord Kirkham Conservative 7:29 pm, 29th January 2013

My Lords, I add my rather hoarse voice to other speakers, who, almost to a man, congratulated my noble friend Lord Deighton, and welcome him to the Treasury Bench.

It is probably appropriate and relevant to declare an interest. I am a director of a food retailer that employs more than 24,000 people here in the UK. We trade from almost 800 stores today although, interestingly enough, 40 years ago, we had just the one store-as you can see, from tiny acorns. I am also involved in motivational speaking to new and growing SMEs and I mentor young entrepreneurs, so I see first-hand the vital role that those fledgling and expanding companies are playing in the success of growing the UK economy and dealing with the pent-up demand that my noble friend Lord Wolfson told us about. They create employment opportunities, they pay tax and in many cases they generate exports as well.

For our economy to grow, we have to liberate the energy and creativity of those companies and their people. The Government are able to offer a helping hand here by laying the foundations for lasting prosperity, and of course they are doing that, but in many areas the most useful thing that the state can do is step out of people's way and allow them to get on with it. I want the Government, wherever they can, to make life as simple as possible for business to do business-particularly those businesses just starting out. They can do that by making the necessary processes of regulation as straightforward and easy as possible.

Bureaucracy and death by red tape have always been the bane of business, particularly SMEs, which are generally time-constrained and which, understandably, want to focus their often limited resources and all their efforts and energies on the prime objective: generating turnover, sales and sustainable profits and, as my noble friend Lord Wolfson said, a cash return. That is the life blood of business. Then the business grows and creates jobs. That is how capitalism works.

It was good to hear the Minister's commitment to cut red tape here and now in the UK. I am delighted that the Prime Minister's approach to our future relationship with the European Union reflects his determination to remove unnecessary regulation by Brussels, but there is still much to do at home. My noble friend Lord Wolfson spoke passionately. He highlighted the ways in which his company's efforts to create jobs and wealth have all too often been frustrated by the planning system and by officials taking a top-down view of what is best for business and families rather than simply liberating the pent-up energies of the private sector and helping people to live, shop and work where they want to.

I could not agree more strongly that the way to encourage businesses to grow is by making the lives of business people easier and simpler. It is important for those microbusinesses, but it is also important for huge organisations. We need to encourage more people who do not even know that they have it in them to create businesses to realise their potential.

In quiet moments, when we relax and contemplate some of the riveting data on our economy and the global debt crisis, it might seem ludicrous to suggest that any meaningful contribution to solving our problems can be made by encouraging one person to follow their dream and start up in business, whether that business be building a better mousetrap or opening a shop. I speak as someone who spent 42 years building a business that started with just one small shop and ended up employing several thousand people in British retailing and manufacturing. Although I am no longer involved in that company, the other privately owned British retailer of which I am a director employs around 24,000 people. That, too, started as a single shop set up by two young men.

Today, we call such people entrepreneurs, and throughout the country there are potential entrepreneurs, similarly minded young strivers who could lead the way in creating jobs and wealth if we could just give them the confidence that it is worth taking the risk. Confidence, the feel good factor, is vital-as was mentioned by several noble Lords-not only in tempting the consumer to spend but in encouraging business to invest in growth. I meet so many entrepreneurs at conferences, business workshops and networking events that I know that there is a huge pool of talent, energy and enthusiasm out there. We just need more people from that pool to start making a bit of a splash.

It is tremendous that the Government have expanded the pot of start-up loans for young entrepreneurs and that we are helping them to get access to mentoring as well as capital to translate their ideas into action. It is also excellent news that the Government are increasing the annual investment allowance for SMEs and have cut both personal income tax and corporation tax. The many initiatives and incentives, illustrative of the Government's commitment, are important and very welcome. They are steps in the right direction. We know that they are working because we have seen-I will not put a number on it because so many people have mentioned it-so many jobs created through the private sector. The figures that came out last week show all-time record numbers in employment. They are the best sign we have seen so far that the economy is moving in the right direction. To my mind, that is a far better guide than the marginal and so-often revised statistical fluctuations in GDP.

I know from my experience that young people starting a new business venture do not take the decision to push the button by studying learned papers on our economic prospects, whether they come from government experts or investment banks. They rely on their gut feeling; they rely on sniffing the air. The scent that they are hoping to pick up is the smell of confidence-confidence that things are moving in the right direction and that therefore it is a good time to invest.

A lifetime of experience in business tells me loudly and clearly that the elusive feeling of confidence is there. I say that without caveat or reservation. I accept that it is a delicate plant and needs nurturing. We must encourage it to blossom by emphasising the real progress that we are making in cutting the deficit, reducing the tax burden on most people and companies, keeping borrowing costs low and, above all, creating jobs. We need to redouble our efforts to simplify and streamline the workings of the Government, put as few obstacles as possible in the way of those who want to start their own business, and create even more employment.

You know, you do not need to be an international business school professor, a highflying accountant or a Treasury wizard to recognise that job creation is fundamental to any turnaround. Every job that we can assist our entrepreneurs to create helps reduce the burden on the welfare budget and puts money into the economy. Even more important, it creates in people's hearts the feeling of pride and self-worth that is beyond price. That has huge spin-off benefits.

I commend the actions of the Government to date and hope that they will do even more in the next two years to provide the incentives, the conditions and the supportive environment to encourage and liberate entrepreneurship. That has the potential to create a truly virtuous circle of job creation, increasing individual prosperity and growing national economic strength.