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My hon. Friend is quite right to point out the local situation in York. He has been very involved in ensuring that there is help for businesses. In fact, Yorkshire Forward supported 17 companies in York
during the first two quarters of this year as part of its targeted export support services and, through the Train to Gain enhancement fund, it has supported 32 York businesses. That is a good track record for the RDA in my hon. Friend's constituency.
Miss Anne McIntosh (Vale of York) (Con): Can the Minister explain why small businesses in York and north Yorkshire say that they cannot have access to credit and finance from the Government and from the finance credit guarantee to which she referred? What are the Government doing to make that finance and credit available?
Ms Winterton: Through Yorkshire Forward, we have established Business Link as the first port of call for businesses to get advice, often, for example, on how to have a free financial health check. That has enabled them to put a case together and access the enterprise finance guarantee and other initiatives. I have to say to the hon. Lady that her party voted against all help in such circumstances-
Jeff Ennis (Barnsley, East and Mexborough) (Lab): May I tell the Minister that yesterday I was at the launch in Leeds of two research papers commissioned by The Northern Way, highlighting the significant role that all three RDAs-Yorkshire Forward, Northwest RDA and OneNortheast-are playing in supporting local businesses in their regions? Does my right hon. Friend agree that we need to strengthen the links between the three RDAs if we are to continue to accelerate economic development in the regions and attract skilled workers?
Ms Winterton: My hon. Friend is quite right to point to the work that has been done across the northern regions. The work of The Northern Way has focused very much on what needs to be done during the economic downturn and in planning for the recovery. The work of the RDAs has been absolutely crucial during this time, and the Conservative party has sent out very conflicting messages about the future-
Sir Patrick Cormack (South Staffordshire) (Con): Is it true that the hon. Member for Barnsley, East and Mexborough (Jeff Ennis) who just asked the right hon. Lady that question is her deputy Regional Minister? If it is true, how can it happen?
Ms Winterton: Because my hon. Friend is doing a great job in ensuring that we work closely with business organisations, the regional development agency and local authorities in Yorkshire and the Humber, to ensure that real help is made available to those businesses and individuals and that we are planning properly for the recovery. The Conservative party voted against all those measures and has no answers for the future in Yorkshire and the Humber.
The Minister for Business, Innovation and Skills (Mr. Pat McFadden): Measures to prevent tips from being counted towards salaries in calculating the minimum wage were introduced by the Government on 1 October this year. The public do not expect the tips that they leave for staff to be used to make up the minimum wage, and the change that we have introduced brings clarity for customers, staff and employers. We will ask the Low Pay Commission to review the measure next year, as part of its annual reporting process.
Shona McIsaac: In constituencies such as Cleethorpes, where many people work in the hospitality industry, this move has been widely welcomed, but can my right hon. Friend tell me whether there is still a difference if people tip via cash or credit or debit card? With one of those methods, the money used to go to staff, and with the other, it did not. Will he clarify the position?
Mr. McFadden: Yes, I am very happy to clarify that. My hon. Friend is right that, in the past, the law treated tips differently depending on whether they were left by cash or by credit card. The change that we have made clarifies the position and makes it clear that all tips and gratuities, whether left by cash or by credit card, can no longer be used to make up the minimum wage. That is right; it is an important measure of justice for service workers; and it is entirely in line with the public's expectations.
The Minister for Further Education, Skills, Apprenticeships and Consumer Affairs (Kevin Brennan): Some 220 young people aged 16 to 18 started apprenticeships in Shipley in 2007-08, and 107,600 did so in England. The Apprenticeships, Skills, Children and Learning Bill will ensure that all young people receive objective and comprehensive advice about their options at the age of 16 and that an apprenticeship place is available for all suitably qualified young people by 2013.
Philip Davies: I thank the Minister for those figures, but will he break them down further and explain how many of them were real, traditional apprenticeships, as most people in this country would understand them, and how many of them were other forms of training that the Government call apprenticeships for reasons of political spin?
Kevin Brennan: The hon. Gentleman's attitude is rather disappointing and rather out of date. More than 180 apprenticeship frameworks, across all sorts of careers, are available now in the UK since the Government rescued apprenticeships from the oblivion that they were heading towards under the Conservative party.
Chris Ruane (Vale of Clwyd) (Lab): Does my hon. Friend agree that Shipley and England in general can learn from best practice on apprenticeships from across the UK, including Wales and, in my constituency, Rhyl college, which has had a £4 million extension to increase the number of apprenticeships? Will he join me in congratulating Rhyl college, which has been a finalist for a beacon award in open access?
Mr. David Willetts (Havant) (Con): If the Minister is so keen on apprenticeships, will he explain to the House why, in the leaked document that I have before me, he proposes cuts to the funding of apprenticeships, and why he is doing so little to help apprentices who are losing their jobs during the recession? Why does he not adopt our policy of a clearing house to help apprentices who lose their jobs to find new employers? If he will not do that, why does he not ask Lord Sugar to take that on? That might be a better use of Lord Sugar's time than denouncing Britain's hard-working small businesses, which is all that he seems to do at the moment. Or is it a case of "Lord Sugar, you're fired"?
Kevin Brennan: The hon. Gentleman raises a number of issues. Of course, the so-called secret document to which he refers confirmed savings announced in the Budget. It just goes to show that if one wants to keep something secret, one should announce it in the House of Commons. Those figures were no secret to anybody in the further education sector. It was not a secret document, and of course it did not propose a cut in apprenticeship numbers. We are confident that we can maintain the numbers by reducing unit cost. I thought that the hon. Gentleman would welcome greater efficiency.
The Minister for Business, Innovation and Skills (Mr. Pat McFadden): Last year, the Government launched a £6 million, three-year information campaign to make sure that vulnerable workers are aware of their rights and of how to report abuses. As part of our efforts, we recently launched the pay and work rights helpline on 0800 917 2368. It combines the functions of five previous helplines, making it easier for vulnerable workers to report bad treatment at work. Today, we are also announcing specific plans to ban up-front fees in the modelling and entertainment industry, to stop agencies trying to exploit young people who are trying to break into those industries.
"We know that there will be a minority of employers out there who will try to get around the law and perhaps that temptation increases in a recession, but we are determined that the recession must not be an excuse for people to be denied their basic employment rights."
Mr. McFadden: It is perfectly normal for member states to be given three years to implement such directives. We will legislate to implement the directive in the coming months, but I have to tell my hon. Friend that if the Opposition had their way, the issue would not be whether the measure was implemented next year or the year after that, but whether it was implemented at all. The Leader of the Opposition said last week-
Mr. Christopher Chope (Christchurch) (Con): Will the Minister confirm that the helpline number that he has given to the House is available to hon. Members' staff who are threatened with redundancy by the recommendations of Sir Christopher Kelly?
The Minister for Business, Innovation and Skills (Mr. Pat McFadden): The Government are committed to getting the legislation on to the statute book by the end of this Parliament; my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister confirmed that in his recent speech to the TUC. Last month, we published draft regulations that are scheduled to come into force in 2011.
Tony Lloyd: Will my right hon. Friend tell the House whether he has received any representations from those who would seek to ensure that the directive does not apply to the United Kingdom? Did they make those representations to him because they want to attack vulnerable workers, or is it, for them, merely another promise on Europe to be broken?
Mr. McFadden: If you will permit me, Mr. Speaker, I will answer the question. Yes, we have heard calls for social and employment legislation to be repatriated, and for us not to go ahead with the legislation. I do not know where the right hon. and learned Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Clarke) stands on the issue, but I do not believe that that would be in the interests of the country, when agreements have already been reached in Europe, or in the interests of agency workers, for whom we want to ensure justice, through the implementation, on a proper time scale, of the legislation.
Mr. Jonathan Djanogly (Huntingdon) (Con):
Conservatives did, indeed, campaign for a delay to the agency workers directive's implementation until November 2011, and business was very relieved when the Government conceded to that delay. But, given the regulations' complexity,
why are the Government now pandering to trade union demands to push the measures through before the general election?
Mr. McFadden: It is perfectly normal for legislation to be passed by this House and then for a period to elapse before its implementation. There is nothing unusual about that, and there is no undue delay to the matter. When such directives are agreed in Europe, it is perfectly normal for member states to be given up to three years to implement them. We have stuck by what we said we would do on the legislation, which is to legislate in the coming months and to have an implementation time scale on the basis that we have set out.
The Minister for Regional Economic Development and Co-ordination (Ms Rosie Winterton): A number of targeted interventions are working to ensure access to finance for small and medium-sized businesses. They include the enterprise finance guarantee, whereby 6,240 businesses have been offered loans totalling £630 million to date, and the capital for enterprise fund, whereby £60 million has been offered to 40 businesses.
John Howell: Picking up the point that my hon. Friend the Member for Havant (Mr. Willetts) made, I wonder whether the Minister agrees with her new noble Friend Lord Sugar, the Prime Minister's enterprise tsar, who said that those small businesses that are trying to seek credit are merely moaners and living in Disneyland.
Ms Winterton: That is not my understanding of what Lord Sugar said. However, there has been very good progress in terms of the enterprise finance guarantee, and, as I said, about £630 million has been offered to small and medium-sized enterprises. The hon. Gentleman needs to understand that his party totally opposed those facilities, and that, working with regional development agencies and local authorities, we have not only got real help out there to businesses during these difficult economic times, but set out a very clear plan for the recovery regionally, locally and nationally.
Mr. Geoffrey Robinson (Coventry, North-West) (Lab): Will my right hon. Friend look at access to finance for research and development in manufacturing and, in particular, the position in Coventry, where Ericsson is sacking 700 skilled workers because it cannot access R and D money owing to its status as a cost centre, and not a profit centre? That seems a big restriction.
Ms Winterton: I will certainly take up with the regional development agency the issues that my hon. Friend raises, because finance is available to undertake research and development. Obviously, we regret Ericsson's announcement. It will remain a large investor, so it is not leaving the UK entirely, but I understand the feeling that it will be a great loss to the west midlands.
John Thurso (Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross) (LD):
Access to, and the cost of, bank credit remains a critical issue for many small and medium-sized businesses.
However, the financial crisis has equally shown the need for better access to equity finance. In that regard, does the Minister agree that to address the equity gap we need to put in place mechanisms, including local enterprise funds and even regional stock exchanges, such as the very successful Investbx? How are the Government going to achieve that?
Ms Winterton: Certainly, the recently launched innovation funds will be extremely helpful in that regard. The hon. Gentleman may also be aware of a number of regional development agencies that are considering using European regional development fund money in order to look at venture capital funds and ensure that there is capital for the future.
The Minister for Further Education, Skills, Apprenticeships and Consumer Affairs (Kevin Brennan): We have received a number of oral and written representations from interested parties, expressing a range of views on the Competition Commission's proposal for a grocery supply code of practice ombudsman. Those views, together with the commission's careful analysis, will be taken into account when we reach our decision shortly.
Andrew George: After 10 years of inquiries, the Competition Commission's recommendation clearly identified that supermarkets transfer excessive risk and unexpected costs, to the detriment of both suppliers and consumers. Surely for the Government this is more of a Kelly inquiry moment than a Professor Nutt moment. Are there any circumstances in which the Government have ever refused to accept the clear recommendations of the Competition Commission in this way?
Kevin Brennan: As I discussed with the hon. Gentleman just last week when he came to meet me about this subject, Parliament ultimately intends Ministers to take decisions. That is why the power rests with Ministers, and I think he would be the first to criticise me as a Minister if I simply accepted every recommendation without giving it due consideration.
Paddy Tipping (Sherwood) (Lab): It is very clear that small food producers face unfair competition with large retailers. The Competition Commission has made a recommendation. When are the Government going to make a decision and announce it?
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