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Westminster Hall

Thursday 4 December 2014

[Mr Philip Hollobone in the Chair]

Backbench Business

Small Business Saturday

Motion made, and Question proposed, That the sitting be now adjourned.—(Damian Hinds.)

1.30 pm

Mr Philip Hollobone (in the Chair): The subject of this afternoon’s debate is small business Saturday, which occurs in two days’ time on Saturday 6 December. The debate will be ably led by the hon. Member for City of Chester (Stephen Mosley).

Stephen Mosley (City of Chester) (Con): Thank you, Mr Hollobone, for the opportunity to highlight the crucial importance of having thriving, popular and successful small businesses in our towns and cities, and to emphasise the important role that small business Saturday plays in helping small businesses to achieve their potential. Small businesses are the lifeblood of our economy. They account for 99% of all businesses in the UK. They employ some 15 million people across the country and they account for half our private sector GDP. Small businesses play such an important role in our national economy that if every small business took on one new member of staff, we would eliminate unemployment overnight.

Alok Sharma (Reading West) (Con): I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing this incredibly important debate. He is making the case for small businesses up and down the country, which will have welcomed some of the statements from the Chancellor yesterday. Does my hon. Friend share my view that one of the great bugbears for many small businesses has been the business rate structure? The small businesses that I have talked to in the past 24 hours really welcomed the Chancellor’s proposed review of business rates.

Stephen Mosley: All of us, as Members of Parliament, receive complaints about business rates from our constituents and those who run businesses. The cost of business rates comes straight off the bottom line of a business—straight out of profit and straight out of the money that people take home at the end of the day—and it has a huge impact on businesses. That is especially true in a constituency such as mine, where we have a thriving and popular city centre with very high rental values. The rateable values for small shops in the city centre are quite extortionate. I welcome the announcements about the reform of business rates, the extension of small business rate relief and the increase of the rebate for small businesses from £1,000 to £1,500 in April.

As our economy grows and evolves, so do our small businesses. Whereas small business used to mean the corner shop on the high street, it can now mean artisan producers on stalls at farmers markets, family-run

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restaurants and bars, an international e-business run by a student from his bedroom or a boutique clothes business run from the kitchen table by a full-time mum. The fact that small business in the UK is booming is great news for Britain, great news for jobs and great news for wealth creation. Across the country, record numbers of people are starting their own small businesses, and British entrepreneurs created a record number of new businesses last year. Research from the national enterprise campaign shows that more than 526,000 businesses were created in 2013, which was up from 484,000 in 2012 and 440,000 in 2011. We all want that trend to continue.

Maria Miller (Basingstoke) (Con): I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing this important debate. Will he join me in applauding the increased number of women who are setting up small businesses and the growth in female entrepreneurship in this country, which the Government have nurtured?

Stephen Mosley: Of course I will. Not only are women setting up small businesses in record numbers, but young people are doing the same. Chester university is running some fantastic courses to support entrepreneurs, which get young people out there so that when they leave university they will consider the option of setting up their own business. Young people, women and ethnic minorities are all people whom we want to help to set up their own small business, and they are all doing so in record numbers.

The Government have done a huge amount to help. As we saw in yesterday’s autumn statement, the Chancellor is willing to give even more support to small businesses. There is still a huge amount that local communities, local groups and local businesses can do to help themselves, because the people who most benefit from having successful, popular and thriving local shops are local communities.

Simon Wright (Norwich South) (LD): I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on securing the debate. Does he agree that Government-backed opportunities to highlight success, such as the great British high street awards, can play a really important role? The Lanes in Norwich was a well deserved winner of the city category of those awards for the vibrant reputation of its high street.

Stephen Mosley: Like many people in this room, I spent a good deal of time in Norwich a few years ago when there was a by-election in the north of the city, and I was amazed at what a beautiful city it was. Coming from the north-west of England, I had not been to Norwich before, but I was impressed. It is on my wish list of places I would like to visit in the future.

Research shows that for every £1 that is spent in a local independent business, 60p goes straight back into the local economy. Areas that have a high proportion of independent small shops have been found to increase social interactions between shoppers. People in such areas are twice as likely to say hello to other people on their high street. People who live near small shops are 16% more likely to be positive about their local high street than are those who live in areas that lack independent stores.

Valerie Vaz (Walsall South) (Lab): I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on securing the debate. Does he agree that there are concerns about the number of empty

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shops in our high streets? In Walsall town centre, at least 26% of shops are empty. Do we not need to do something more for our small businesses in the high street?

Stephen Mosley: I totally agree. Shopping habits are changing. People are moving online, and they are increasingly using out-of-town shopping centres. We as community leaders, local authorities and other organisations must get behind our high streets to ensure that when people go shopping in their local high street, they are not simply going to the shops but are having an experience in which they learn something and enjoy themselves. It is incumbent on all of us—Governments and local authorities, but also businesses and local communities—to make sure that high streets are vibrant, fun and exciting so that people decide to go to them. Only if people go to shopping centres and provide the necessary footfall will businesses move in and take up the empty shops.

Alok Sharma: My hon. Friend talked about support, and of course we can all offer support, but there is Government support as well. I believe that the Government have been relentless in their support for business, and we all welcome that. The Government have all sorts of schemes to help small businesses. What more does my hon. Friend think that we in the House, or the Government, can do to inform people of those schemes and of the support that is available to help them to prosper and grow?

Stephen Mosley: My hon. Friend has got to the nub of the debate. As well as highlighting small business Saturday, the debate is about highlighting the support that is available for small businesses across the country. I will talk later in my speech about what the Government are doing. I am sure that the Minister is quite capable of banging the drum and telling us all about the good work that he and the Government have done to support small businesses.

Mark Hunter (Cheadle) (LD): I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing this important debate. He is being generous with his time, and I hope that he gets the opportunity to proceed more quickly. I put it to him that although small business Saturday is massively important and a very healthy thing—that is why we are all here to support it—we really need communities across the length and breadth of the country to understand the need to support their local shops all year round. Small business Saturday is a welcome initiative, but by itself it is not enough. Retailers on the high street face a great deal of challenge, and we need to get more people to support local shops on a regular basis. Does my hon. Friend agree with me on that point? I hope that he will have the opportunity to say what more we can all do—not just the Government—collectively to support our local small businesses.

Stephen Mosley: I support what the hon. Gentleman says. He raises the points that I wanted to raise in my conclusion, so he is denying me all the glory of raising those issues myself.

By working together, local communities, local groups and local businesses can boost their small shops and therefore boost their local area. One of the most inspiring,

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exciting and successful ideas for doing that is small business Saturday. Simply, small business Saturday exists to support, inspire and promote small businesses. It started in the United States of America in 2010, and it has been a key feature of the pre-Christmas shopping period and become established on the first Saturday after Thanksgiving. Small business Saturday was conceived, launched and is still heavily backed by American Express, with the intention of encouraging shoppers to patronise small, local bricks-and-mortar businesses.

In America small business Saturday has been heavily promoted via a nationwide radio and television advertising campaign, with a heavy focus on social media that has generated more than 1 million Facebook likes and hundreds of thousands of tweets using the Twitter hashtags #SmallBusinessSaturday and #SmallBizSaturday. Many politicians and business groups in the US have backed the campaign, with many launching campaigns in their local area. Last weekend, on small business Saturday in the US, President Obama and his daughters, Malia and Sasha, went shopping at the Politics and Prose bookstore in Washington DC, where they picked up 17 books. Additionally, many small business owners in the US have started to run marketing specials on small business Saturday to capitalise on the boost in foot and online traffic, as most customers at this time of year are actively shopping for the Christmas period.

Seema Malhotra (Feltham and Heston) (Lab/Co-op): I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on securing this debate. My hon. Friend the Member for Streatham (Mr Umunna) played a key role in bringing small business Saturday to the UK. The hon. Member for City of Chester (Stephen Mosley) is outlining a number of areas where small businesses in America have come forward, but does he agree that we can do a lot more and use small business Saturday to help our local businesses gain the confidence to come forward, market themselves more and feel that they can be much more present, and proud of their presence, in our communities?

Stephen Mosley: I totally agree. Small business Saturday started in the United States, and it is thought that last year US consumers spent $5.7 billion, which is about £3.6 billion, in small, independent retailers on small business Saturday. Following its success in the United States, small business Saturday first burst on to the scene in the UK in 2013. I am aware that the hon. Member for Streatham (Mr Umunna) was very much involved in bringing small business Saturday over to the UK.

Valerie Vaz: To make a link between the United States and here, we were lucky to have the Reverend Jesse Jackson holding up a sign for small business Saturday with my hon. Friend the Member for Streatham (Mr Umunna) in Walsall.

Stephen Mosley: I know how much the hon. Member for Streatham has been involved. He first learned about small business Saturday when he saw celebrities and high-profile people in the US tweeting about it. He, with Members from all parts of the House, put in a huge amount of work to bring small business Saturday to the UK last year. In the UK, small business Saturday has settled on the first Saturday in December, and it

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aims to have a long-term impact by encouraging shoppers to shop local and support the small businesses in their local area.

An independent community interest company, Small is Big, has been set up to run small business Saturday in the UK, and it endeavours to encourage organisations to support small business Saturday and get the word out about the day. Organisations such as the Federation of Small Businesses, the Association of Town & City Management, the Association of Convenience Stores and the Northern Ireland Independent Retail Trade Association have given their support and have encouraged their memberships to get involved. Last year’s small business Saturday gained widespread support and publicity across the UK in the newspapers, on TV and in social media.

Surveys show that 48% of UK customers were aware of last year’s small business Saturday and of the campaign’s aim to encourage people to shop small and shop local. The small business Saturday UK Facebook page gained more than 1.5 million views, and #SmallBizSatUK was in Twitter’s top three trending items all day. The campaign gained widespread support across the country, with 40% of local authorities also supporting the day. It is estimated that more than £460 million was spent in small businesses on that day alone, with 43% of shoppers deciding specifically to shop at a local store, spending £33 each on average.

Last year, small business Saturday gained the support of more than 200 Members of Parliament, including the Prime Minister and Members from both Front Benches. I was one of those 200 MPs, and I used small business Saturday to try to boost our local small shops and high streets in Chester. We distributed fliers and posters, and with the support of the local newspapers, we advertised both the day and special offers by many of our local shops. More than 400 local shops took part, and I started my Christmas shopping in the wonderful Chester suburb of Hoole, which has a fantastic reputation as one of the premier local high streets in Chester and is full of local, independent shops.

Running alongside small business Saturday, I was delighted to organise and run our first small business awards, which allowed customers to nominate and vote for their favourite independent shops and businesses. It was obvious that local people recognise the difference that these businesses make, whether it be the great customer service they receive or the high-quality products that the shops deliver. More than 150 businesses took part in the awards, and more than 1,000 local people voted for their favourite business. G&M Goold funeral directors in Vicars Cross and Monogram dry cleaners in Newton were the joint winners of my awards last year.

This year’s small business Saturday looks likely to beat all records. Like last year, we are seeing a huge push on the internet and on social media. The website www.smallbusinesssaturdayuk.com contains loads of useful information and promotional materials, such as digital packs of downloadable marketing material, including posters, logos and social media icons. There is also advice on running successful social media campaigns and a useful guide to avoiding the most common Twitter pitfalls—something some of our colleagues could do well to read. The small business Saturday team is using social media channels to feature 100 small businesses—one a day—in the 100 days leading up to small business Saturday, highlighting all that is great about small businesses.

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Foodies, an Edinburgh cafe, bakery and caterer launched with help from the Prince’s Trust, is today’s “small biz 100” company.

Alongside the online campaign, the small business Saturday bus is travelling the length and breadth of the country advertising small business Saturday and handing out promotional materials. There is also a big campaign in the traditional media, with many national and local newspapers already getting behind small business Saturday, highlighting the importance of Britain’s small businesses and backing the “shop small, shop local” campaign.

Chester will again be playing its part in ensuring that small business Saturday is a huge success. My office has produced small business packs containing posters and fliers, which we have distributed to small shops in the city centre and in suburban shopping areas. We have launched this year’s competition to find Chester’s favourite small business and distributed thousands of nomination slips, as well as allowed people to nominate their favourite small businesses on my “Championing Chester” website. Chester has a strong reputation as home to many successful small independent shops and I look forward to seeing the nominations and joining the celebration of our small business scene’s diversity and success.

Small business Saturday is an excellent way of highlighting the importance and success of small business across the UK, but the campaign, as we have heard, is about more than encouraging people to use small, independent local shops on one day a year. It is also about changing people’s mindsets so that they shop local and shop small every day of the year. Just as consumers need to be there to support small business 365 days a year, the Government also need to be there 365 days a year.

So far, as we have heard in interventions, the Government have an impressive record. I will briefly outline some of the welcome measures and support that have been provided to help small businesses thrive and grow. They include: the employment allowance, which has cut each company’s national insurance bill by £2,000, which directly benefits smaller companies disproportionately more than large multinationals; the reduction in corporation tax rates; the doubling of small business rates relief, and the welcome announcement from the Chancellor yesterday that that will continue after April next year. A £1,000 business rates discount has also been introduced for retail premises with a rateable value up to £50,000, which the autumn statement yesterday increased to £1,500 from April next year.

Toby Perkins (Chesterfield) (Lab): We all know business rates are a bugbear for many small businesses, particularly in the high-street sector. What was the hon. Gentleman’s view on the Government’s decision back in 2012 to put off the revaluation of business rates? Does he think that that was a mistake, on reflection, or does he support their decision?

Stephen Mosley: I am delighted by the action that the Government have taken, whether it is the introduction of small business rates relief, the rebate for small retail units or, as we heard earlier, the decision announced yesterday to review the business rates system. I hope that the Opposition support the Government in achieving their aims.

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Toby Perkins: In terms of the business rates, I am not clear what the Government’s aims are, other than having a review. However, I was asking the hon. Gentleman specifically about the decision to put off the revaluation of business rates, which will have had a significant impact on most northern communities, and probably on his. I would be interested to hear his analysis and whether he supported that measure.

Stephen Mosley: I was trying to keep the small business Saturday debate non-political to show what support exists across the House for small business in the UK, but if the shadow Minister wants to get political, I could point out why this Government inherited massive spending problems in 2010. Huge mistakes were made up to 2010. I do not want to go there; I want to keep this debate positive about what we can do to help small business going forwards. Is the hon. Gentleman happy with that?

Toby Perkins: I am happy to take that challenge, although I do not know why the hon. Gentleman feels quite so threatened. He was reading off a list of things that the Government had done, and one of the most significant decisions that they have taken over the past few years has been their decision on business rates. He is talking about business rates, so I asked whether he supports that decision. He should not necessarily see that as hostile; I am just asking him what his view is.

Stephen Mosley: I quite agree that the Government have done a lot, whether on small business rates relief, the doubling of rates relief or the rebate. I totally support those actions, and I support the announcement yesterday of a future review of business rates.

The measures on business rates and corporation tax allow small businesses to keep more of their hard-earned cash—money they can use to take on more staff, invest in new equipment, or simply pay down debt. To help small businesses raise the cash that they need to start or grow, the Government have also launched the British Business bank, providing up to £4 billion in funding for business on top of the successful start-up loans scheme, which has already provided £150 million to enable more than 20,000 entrepreneurs to follow their dreams and start their own small companies. I am sure that the Minister will highlight many more of the schemes that he and his Government have introduced to help small business in his response to the debate.

Since 2010, hundreds of thousands of new businesses have been launched every year, so that, as we heard the Prime Minister say at questions yesterday, there are now more than 760,000 more businesses in the UK. In my constituency of Chester, new business start-ups have increased by 300%. Small businesses have been responsible for nearly half the job creation in the UK. They employ about 15 million people and make up about half of our private sector economy. Small business has an absolutely fantastic story to tell, and small business Saturday is an opportunity for us all to shout from the rooftops about how important our small and local shops and businesses are.

Although the Government have done a lot to help, it is also crucial that local communities, groups and businesses come together and celebrate all that is great about our small businesses and the contribution they make to our economy and our high streets, because the people who

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benefit the most from having successful, popular and thriving local shops are local communities themselves. I will be shopping small and local in Chester this Saturday, and I hope that the Minister and other Members will back small business Saturday too.

Mr Philip Hollobone (in the Chair): An excellent example for us all.

1.55 pm

Mr William Bain (Glasgow North East) (Lab): It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hollobone. I congratulate the hon. Member for City of Chester (Stephen Mosley) on securing this debate. I recall speaking in a similar debate last year, and I am pleased to reflect on the fact that we have had a welcome year of solid growth in small and medium-sized businesses since then, as well as a good deal of job creation. We should welcome and encourage that. Later in my remarks, I hope to set out some of the challenges that small businesses in my constituency—and across the country, through the Select Committee on Business, Innovation and Skills—have mentioned to me and on which they are seeking help from Government and all of us in politics.

There has been some discussion about the consistency of policy among Governments of different complexions. Some 77% of all employment growth between 1998 and 2010, when we were in government, was due to small and medium-sized businesses. All of us in this House have a huge commitment to recognising the economic and social contribution made by small businesses, and hopefully some good ideas will emerge from this debate about how we can strengthen them further.

I think of the bakeries, coffee shops and newsagents open long before we all get up in the morning, hard at work providing services and making a terrific contribution to the economy, but I also want to single out some of the important small businesses that have surged in the last few years in my constituency. One of them is Gaia-Wind, a manufacturer of small wind turbines in Port Dundas, which has hugely expanded the number of local Glasgow people it employs over the past five years. The company has now cracked open access to markets in Japan and Denmark, so its contribution in exports to the Scottish economy will be much larger.

Speaking with Gaia-Wind threw up some issues that many small businesses across the country still experience. The first is access to finance. According to the Bank of England’s most recent inflation report, SME lending is still falling. It has fallen every year during this Parliament, despite initiatives such as funding for lending. It illustrates the need for powerful structural reform of our banking sector and for a British investment bank that can provide finance to major infrastructure projects and strategically important industries in our economy. The green investment bank needs more powers to drive an increase in green investment that will benefit the entire economy and help us show the global leadership that we should be showing in decarbonising our energy supply by 2030.

We can learn from other countries such as Germany, which in both good periods of economic growth and periods of downturn have been able to keep funding going to small and medium-sized businesses in a way that the traditional banking system in this country has been unable to. I hope that in the next few years we will see more action for more regional banks. That would help.

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Seema Malhotra: My hon. Friend is making an excellent speech. He rightly raises the issue of access to finance and creative ways in which banks might now start to provide that access. Does he agree that there might be more opportunity to think about how businesses are reached? When I was in India earlier this year, I met the founder of the Mann Deshi bank, which uses mobile banking—a bit like our chip and pin system—to go out into communities and deliver services on the doorstep. That makes a huge difference to people, particularly women, who are setting up their businesses.

Mr Bain: My hon. Friend makes an excellent point. Indeed, one of the trends that we have spotted in the last few years is the number of women becoming increasingly keen to start up their own businesses, which policy in politics and the financial system should seek to promote. She made her point very well indeed.

There is a need for structural banking reform and for the Government to emphasise more the role that our small and medium-sized businesses can play in terms of exports. It was disappointing yesterday, after the autumn statement, to read in the fiscal report by the Office for Budget Responsibility that it has had to downgrade its forecast for the contribution that net trade will make to growth in this country for each of the next five years. That is a desperate position and Members from all parts of the House should be concerned about it.

I urge the Government, following this debate, to take more steps to make UK Trade & Investment much more proactive, to build on the work that our excellent exporting SMEs are doing in all our constituencies, and to ensure that the Government not only react to businesses but proactively engage with them and open up new markets. That is what the small businesses in my constituency tell me is needed, and it is an urgent priority for the Government during the next year.

We have heard, quite rightly, tributes to my hon. Friend the Member for Streatham (Mr Umunna)—small business Saturday in this country is his initiative. However, we should also follow some examples that originated, in principle, in the United States. That would be helped by having a small business administration within the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills. When small businesses speak to me, too many of them say that they feel there is too much of a silo mentality in Government, with too many Ministers in different Departments but not enough working together to produce the best approach—particularly when it comes to our manufacturing exporters. I hope that a small business administration within BIS would begin to break down that silo mentality, so that we would see improvements.

Small and medium-sized businesses deserve other help from Government when it comes to procurement. This Government, I remember, came to office and pledged that a quarter of all Government procurement contracts would go to SMEs. That simply has not happened; that target has not been met. It is clear that the next Government, whichever complexion they have, will have to do substantially more to make up for the underperformance of the Cabinet Office during the last four and a half years. An emphasis across Government on how the procurement system can help SMEs has got to be a priority of Government policy.

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Small businesses also tell me about the problem they face in gaining access to broadband. Again, the previous Government had a commitment to universal access to broadband by 2012. This Government decided to scrap that commitment; they made new commitments about superfast broadband, but in the last year or so those have been put back to 2017. With more and more people shopping online, even with local firms, it must be a priority of Government to ensure that as many people and as many small businesses are online as quickly as possible. That involves both getting support from the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills and dealing with issues such as payroll, tax and benefits. If we are to have an infrastructure in Britain that is fit for the 21st century, it is an absolute priority that we see businesses online as quickly as possible and with a good, reliable broadband speed; small businesses also regularly complain about their broadband speed.

Another issue critical to small businesses is Government policy on skills. Commenting after yesterday’s autumn statement, the National Institute of Adult Continuing Education said that it was disappointed that the measures in the statement did not tie up with rhetoric that we had heard beforehand. NIACE particularly points to the issue about adult skills and workplace training. The Minister and I have regularly conversed about it.

Given the OBR’s verdict on productivity and investment, it is absolutely critical for the future of small businesses that they have a willing partner in Government to ensure that investment in a skilled work force is a priority and is improved in the coming years. The Federation of Small Businesses, among others, is very concerned about this issue.

It has also become clear this week that there are still very disappointing numbers on earnings growth, and that is borne out by our experience as constituency MPs every weekend. If we consider the information that came out from the Office for National Statistics this week about the annual survey of hours and wages, we see that wage growth in SMEs is becoming a particular problem. The number of workers across Scotland and the rest of the UK being paid less than a living wage has risen this year compared with last. That makes the case for having a more proactive approach from Government, to support small businesses that want to pay the living wage and that will see the benefits coming from the Government’s taking more action on it.

I simply commend the idea of having a fiscal incentive. Labour Members have sought to put that incentive together in the form of “make work pay” contracts. The Government ought to be looking at that type of incentive as well, so that we can go ahead on a cross-party basis, as the hon. Member for City of Chester has asked us to. Such an incentive would do a great deal to help businesses feeling pressure from lack of access to finance to be able to benefit from the living wage, where that is affordable, as well as help the workers who do such great work for those businesses.

I am optimistic about the future of our small businesses. They have a huge amount to provide, not only for our domestic growth but for the export-led growth that all of us, from all parts of the House, want. However, we need a more active Government who take action on skills, finance, procurement and investment, and I hope that that will be one of the consequences that follows from this excellent debate this afternoon.

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2.8 pm

Andrew Bingham (High Peak) (Con): Thank you, Mr Hollobone, for calling me to speak. It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship again.

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for City of Chester (Stephen Mosley) on securing this important debate. As a former small business man myself, I know and appreciate the value of small businesses, both to our local economies in our own constituencies and to the national economic recovery. Every debate in Westminster Hall is important, but this one has an extra level of importance, and coming today—just two days before small business Saturday—it could not be better timed.

People wonder what the definition of a small business is. Companies employing fewer than 50 people often fall into the category of “small business”, and I suppose that if we compare that number with some of the larger conglomerates in the country, that is a fair description. However, I will focus on what are, in my view, the small businesses—the really small businesses, or the micro-businesses.

I ran a micro-business for 20-odd years and I can assure Members that running one is not easy. Employing only a handful of people, as I did, I used to have to deal with customers of all different sizes and types. I was salesman, credit controller, debt control, buyer and human resources manager all at once, and many small business operators are in the same boat. To do all those roles, they have to work late into the night, putting in many hours. They take their work home and they live, eat and breathe their business.

In High Peak there are 3,520 businesses and 98.5% of those have fewer than 50 employees. It is all too often too easy to forget them because of their size. One small business man said to me, “I don’t have time to lobby my Member of Parliament or to go to meetings. I’m too busy trying to earn a living.” It is up to us as MPs to go to them, to tell them that we support them and want to help them.

As politicians, we would always seek to claim the glory of any economic recovery and, yes, we play a significant part, because we can legislate to help and support these businesses. I am proud that this Government are on the side of the small businesses. We do not regard “profit” as a dirty word and we want to help them into profit, because they can reinvest that and create more jobs and employment in our constituencies. Any economic recovery is driven by businesses, including small businesses. The figure that I cited—the 98.5% in my constituency—shows that small and micro-businesses are very much at the forefront of that effort and the recovery that we see today.

There is a perception among some that the typical small business owner sits there with an expensive cigar, counting the money, but I assure hon. Members from all parties that that is not so. They have staff to look after, debts to service and overheads to worry about and, above all, they have customers whom they have to service and please.

Often a small business’s strongest asset is its staff. Although there were never many of us, my staff were the most important: they were the ones who spoke to customers. The staff in a business operating in a specialist field are trained in a certain specialism, making them even more important. A customer once said that he did

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not have one mortgage on his house, but had 25 mortgages to service, because his 25 employees relied on him for their income and the ability to pay their bills.

The small business has no human resources or personnel departments and no credit control. The owner has to juggle all the different roles and responsibilities, to provide jobs for people, generate profits and pay his or her taxes. I hesitate to say it—and many hon. Members in the Chamber from all parties have worked in small businesses—but unless people have been in the situation, it is difficult to understand and comprehend it.

I remember many experiences well. I remember the day when my two best customers went into liquidation. Anybody who has been in a small business may know that liquidation letters usually arrive on a Monday. Looking at the letter from a firm of solicitors, people will think, “Oh dear, what’s this?”, and open it up to find that XYZ Ltd is in liquidation. The first thing to do is see how much is owed, although we all know fine well that we will not get the money back from that limited company.

I remember being faced with the fact that I had lost a significant sum—not only that, but I had lost my two best customers. Such a situation leads to cash-flow problems and affects the ability to earn that money back. It was not the greatest day and it will live with me for a long time. That is why I say that we should pay particular attention to the experiences of people who have to run these businesses and face such challenges daily.

We should remember that all big businesses usually start as small businesses. My company used to sell air compressor machinery. I am not sure whether many hon. Members know what an air compressor is. I could tell them in great length if they wanted and, since we have plenty of time this afternoon, we could have a great lecture on air compressors.

I remember well a company coming to see me that wanted a machine that cost £400 plus VAT. It was just starting up and did not have the money and said that it could just about squeeze £200. I did a deal with them and it paid half up front and the rest on a post-dated cheque. That company, which makes ready meals, now employs 270 people—it might even be in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Cheadle (Mark Hunter). That company dealt with us for many years, because we had a bond of loyalty, and I was always grateful to it for that reason. Credit is due to it for growing into a large company. We should remember such examples and never forget small businesses. Small business Saturday is so important, because it gives us a chance to support them.

Pretty much every shop on every high street is a small business: every pub is a small business, for example. As well as the retail outlets that we have heard about, we should remember and support plumbers, joiners and electricians—all small businesses in their own right that people can support on small business Saturday. However, I make a plea on behalf of the small and micro-businesses to all residents in my High Peak constituency, and others: do not make small business Saturday an exceptional day in your year’s shopping. People who use a small business should make every day a small business day, not just one day a year—with the greatest respect, that is not much use to people who run small businesses. They cannot make a year’s profit and turnover in a day, so make it every day.

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As well as retail and public-facing small businesses, there are trade businesses. I did very little business with the general public; I was doing business with other companies. I make a plea to the Minister on behalf of such businesses. Big companies, multinationals and especially the public sector, whether councils, Government agencies or Departments, should all embrace this small business ethos and small business Saturday, as I have said before in the House. I venture that such organisations may not work on Saturdays, so they should think of other days and embrace the concept of dealing with small businesses.

I have said it before and I say it again: take the lead, give the small businesses and the micro-businesses a chance to supply Government agencies and local councils, because they can often provide a better product at a better price. Do not put ridiculous surveys, questionnaires and assessments, and all that sort of thing, in their way. Look at their products, what they can offer and their prices. Do not have the same revolving merry-go-round of big organisations dealing with big organisations. Let the small company feed at the table as well. As I have said before, public sector companies would do better to use small businesses wherever they can, because they would get a more personalised service and a better product at a cheaper price.

I am sorry if I am getting a bit evangelical about this, Mr Hollobone, but, as I said, I spent many years trying to deal with big organisations and local authorities, knowing that I could do them a better deal. I remember dealing with a local authority, knowing full well that my product was the same and my service was better, but I did not have certain bits of paper with certain ticks on them. I was facing somebody with an agenda to get all the forms ticked and filled in and knew that I was not going to get the work. It was work that I wanted to get and I knew that I could provide a service at a better rate. Unfortunately, the taxpayer was being short-changed, because those organisations were paying a higher price for the product.

I applaud small business Saturday, but let every day be a small business day. The big businesses—the conglomerates—can shout up for themselves; they have people on their payroll who can do that for them. I am here to shout up for the small business man and woman—incredibly hard-working small business owners in the High Peak and across the country who do so much and create so much for my constituents, yet they are forgotten, overlooked and not recognised for their efforts. My message to them is and always has been clear. I will support them and I am proud that the Government support them. As we near Christmas, I salute every one of them for the sleepless nights, the hard work and the graft that they put in to help our economy. I salute them for what they have contributed over this last year.

While I am on my feet, I have to be honest and say that I am not a big lover of the Christmas festivities—[Hon. Members: “Bah, humbug!”] Yes—bah, humbug! Absolutely. Lent is more my ethos. Anyway, while I am on that theme, I wish small business owners a very merry Christmas and, more importantly, a prosperous Christmas and new year.

Mr Philip Hollobone (in the Chair): It is perfectly in order to be evangelical.

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2.17 pm

Andy McDonald (Middlesbrough) (Lab): It is a pleasure to follow a wonderful speech by the hon. Member for High Peak (Andrew Bingham). I congratulate the hon. Member for City of Chester (Stephen Mosley) on securing the debate. He spoke well, and I am sure that the city of Chester will be a thriving, vibrant place on Saturday and that he will enjoy it, as we all will.

Hon. Members have made the point that there is a wealth of experience in the House. A number of us come from business backgrounds, from all sorts of disciplines, and I recognise the endeavour and energy and the hours that people put in, which the hon. Member for High Peak extolled. Having run small businesses myself—a computer software house and a solicitor’s practice—I know exactly what he means. People not only work all hours, but they are often the last to be paid. Those stresses should never, ever be underestimated.

It is right that every day should be small business day. However, the whole point of small business Saturday is to draw attention to the need for us to support our local businesses. This is the one day that we can really shine a light on them and, hopefully, it will establish practices and shopping behaviours.

I am looking forward to Saturday. If last year’s was anything to go by, we have a lot to look forward to. Last year in Middlesbrough I met dozens of businesses over two days: we claimed Friday as well, making it a two-day celebration of the brilliance and endeavour of so many small businesses. There are some 4,000 small businesses in the borough of Middlesbrough. I apologise if I trespass on to the territory of my hon. Friend the Member for Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland (Tom Blenkinsop), but I will talk about the entire borough. Debates such as this bring home the total privilege it is not only to represent and speak up for such terrific people, but to go around my constituency and see at close quarters what brilliance and drive we have in our communities. I am sure that that is the case for all Members and their constituencies.

This debate is a cross-party celebration of small businesses, but I hope that Government Members will not mind too much if I mark out for some attention the shadow Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills for coming up with the idea of bringing small business Saturday from America across the pond to the UK. That mood of genuine cross-party celebration was captured well by the hon. Member for City of Chester.

Last year, I took the opportunity to visit small businesses in the shopping centres and in the town centre, and it was incredibly uplifting and revealing. The range of businesses was remarkable, and it was wonderful to speak to so many entrepreneurs who took to their trades and crafts with such enthusiasm, from a one-man leaded window manufacturer with an overflowing order book, to some brilliant young people with a thriving business digitising outdated film formats, to some terrific catering businesses in the superb Baker Street Kitchen and the Olde Young Tea House, which was so busy that we could not get a seat. I am delighted to say that the latter business has been such a roaring success in the intervening 12 months that it has had to move into bigger premises.

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I also had the opportunity to call in at the magnificent Psyche clothing store on Linthorpe road. I was delighted last week to attend a sparkling event at the store to honour its founder Steve Cochrane, who rightly received a special award from the mayor for his endeavour and his massive contribution to our town. Steve epitomises the energy and drive of entrepreneurs in Middlesbrough. He started off extremely small some decades ago, with a small shop selling an eclectic mix of bespoke clothing. He moved into bigger premises some 10 years ago, and then moved into the former Uptons department store. That was a ridiculously ambitious project, but it has been an overwhelming success, and it is so much more than a fashion store; as the mayor himself said, it is a work of art in its own right. People come from far and wide to enjoy the fabulous fashions in a wonderful environment. Since opening and establishing such a presence, that business has attracted other fashion retailers and idiosyncratic bars and eateries into the vicinity, creating a terrific buzz on Linthorpe road.

What really impressed me when I visited Baker street was that it has real cachet and is full of stylish and distinctive fashion outlets. There is a real Carnaby street feel about the place. Again, unique businesses have attracted others, including two very successful micro-pubs. There is Sherlocks for one and the Twisted Lip for another one—or even two. I should also mention the long-standing family businesses that are synonymous with our local town stories. They are part of our local histories and narratives. An example in my constituency is the magnificent, family-run, three generations old HS Interiors on North Ormesby road. The same can be said of W.H. Watts on Parliament road, which has been selling prams and buggies to generations of Middlesbrough families. There are so many businesses like that, including the famous Jack Hatfield Sports.

Mark Hunter: I am enjoying listening to the name-checking of so many different businesses in the hon. Gentleman’s constituency. He paints an encouraging picture of progress. Does he agree that one thing we should do on such occasions as this is pay particular tribute to small shops and businesses that go the extra mile? As he was talking, I was thinking of all the small businesses in my patch that come together to organise events of their own. That is not just Christmas fairs or switching on the Christmas lights but events throughout the year. Usually it is the traders themselves who show entrepreneurship and initiative to get together to try to make the shopping centre, the village high street or whatever it is more attractive. They are the people who deserve to succeed, because the days when shopkeepers could sit back and wait for people to come to them are a thing of the past. I invite him to pay tribute to all those who go that extra mile and put on those events for the benefit of the wider community and not just for themselves.

Andy McDonald: I would be delighted to accept that invitation. I pay tribute to those people, because we see it in our communities—parades of shops where people go the extra mile, like the small greengrocer who decides, “I will do some bespoke delivery services. I will ensure that the entire parade of shops can market itself and get materials out to people.” We see good instances of people’s innovative drive. Those people are absolutely

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vital to our communities. If they disappeared from our sub-regional shopping centres, we would be all the poorer for it. I pay tribute to them, because they are the lifeblood of our communities. Their businesses are the ones that define our local economies. The big multinational stores bring much to our high streets and shopping centres, but it is the smaller local businesses that mean so much to our communities. As the hon. Member for City of Chester pointed out, for each pound spent in small businesses, the vast majority of that pound—some 60p—circulates in the local economy. That should always be borne in mind.

What was self-evident last year was the huge number of young women who had started their own businesses, especially in the fashion street I mentioned, but in other places as well. I am delighted that my friend and colleague Louise Baldock, the prospective parliamentary candidate for Stockton South, will be with the Stockton business women’s forum providing encouragement, support and opportunities to local female entrepreneurs and business leaders. She has her own marketing consultancy offering services to a variety of businesses, and I look forward to welcoming her into the House in 2015, where I am sure her experience and expertise in business will make a significant contribution.

Without any shadow of a doubt, we want to praise our local small businesses, but we should also focus on the need to create the conditions that enable businesses to flourish. I want to mention the work of Middlesbrough council, which has invested in the regeneration of a redundant building in the heart of the town centre that was riddled with asbestos. It has also underwritten a project to create a new hotel with 138 bedrooms. The beauty of that project is that it will bring people to the town and encourage and stimulate business activity in its immediate vicinity. Those sorts of projects and initiatives cannot be ignored, and I pay tribute to the council.

Tom Blenkinsop (Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland) (Lab): My hon. Friend is pointing out the good facts about Middlesbrough town centre and his constituency. In south Middlesbrough, we are equally reliant on the town centre being strong and providing employment. The civic pride that those small businesses provide and reflect in a town or area is equal in the smaller shopping precincts outside—in Hemlington, Marton, Coulby Newham, East Cleveland and Guisborough and places like that. The civic pride comes from those small businesses not only providing profit for themselves, but having pride in their local area and helping to maintain it. I pay tribute to Middlesbrough council for its free parking scheme, which it has been running for some time to provide small businesses with extra support, encouragement and footfall.

Andy McDonald: I entirely endorse what my hon. Friend says. That local initiative was important, because we all face the challenges of out-of-town shopping centres. We want to ensure that people have an equal opportunity to come into town centres to shop. He is absolutely right when he talks about the sense of place and identity and people supporting their sub-regional centres, which is vital.

In conclusion, I put on record my enthusiasm for small business Saturday. We got off to a good start last year, when the event added some £500 million of trading

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to GDP in 24 hours. I strongly suspect that with the momentum and capacity that has built up over the past 12 months, this year will be even better. I welcome the initiative and congratulate the hon. Member for City of Chester on securing the debate.

Mr Philip Hollobone (in the Chair): We will now go to a right hon. Lady in striking blue, who will be followed by an hon. Lady in striking red. I call Maria Miller.

2.29 pm

Maria Miller (Basingstoke) (Con): It is a great pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, I think for the first time, Mr Hollobone, in this important debate. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for City of Chester (Stephen Mosley) on securing the debate. I had the great pleasure of visiting Chester with him recently, so I know how wonderful that city is and about the important investment that is going into the city centre.

I pay tribute to my local branch of the Federation of Small Businesses, in particular Tim Colman, the regional vice-chairman, who does an extraordinary amount to support local businesses in my area. In the work that he does, he goes above and beyond the call of duty.

My hon. Friend the Member for High Peak (Andrew Bingham) spoke about his experience as a small business man. His comments resonated with me because my father was a small business man, so I recognise exactly the challenges he described. Running a small business is a tough job, especially for those with families. We should all pay tribute to the people who take that risk—who put themselves out there and run businesses to generate income not only for their own family, but for other people as well.

Andrew Bingham: Like my right hon. Friend’s father, my late father set up his business at the age of 27. The whole family were part of that business, because dad set it up and we lived and fell by his efforts. We were born into that as we came through as the next generation.

Maria Miller: My hon. Friend is absolutely right that it is in the blood, and we can see that in him.

Small business Saturday gives us all an opportunity to think about and celebrate small businesses not only nationally, but in our own communities. It is important that people shop locally. Residents of Basingstoke can do that every day of the week, but they have an extra opportunity to do so next week, because on Friday the Hampshire farmers market, one of the largest in the country, will be in Basingstoke, showing that the ingenuity and entrepreneurial spirit is very much alive and kicking in my part of the world. I encourage everyone to go along and see the entrepreneurial spirit of Hampshire showcased there.

As I said, people in Basingstoke can shop locally every day of the week and our local council has played a great role in that achievement. The Viables Craft Centre on Harrow way is home to a number of small, local businesses, which have had the opportunity to come together to create the right environment for their products. They include the Butterfly Tree florists and Les Jolies Choses, which was set up by Lisa Wyatt—I know her well—who, starting from just an idea, set up a business that is now thriving. That is the epitome of what one thinks about when one celebrates small businesses.

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Of course in Basingstoke we also have the top of town shopping area, our historic area, which many overlook. It is the site of our 900-year-old market and the Basingstoke assembly rooms, made famous by Jane Austen because they provided much of the material she used in books such as “Mansfield Park.” Whenever hon. Members think about shopping in Basingstoke, I urge them to think about its history as well as its modernity.

I mentioned the importance of local authorities in building small businesses and nowhere can that be more true than in Basingstoke. In the past year, we have seen more than 1,000 new businesses formed in Basingstoke—indeed, we have more than 6,800 small businesses, which account for 98% of the businesses in the borough. They grew by 6% in the past year and they are forecast to grow by a similar amount in the next 12 months.

Small businesses are the lifeblood of our economy and they have been nurtured by our local authority through a variety of measures. Our local council has a procurement strategy that helps to support local small businesses, so that they can tender more effectively for contracts—a really positive action that can make an enormous difference—and we have a small business concordat, which helps that come into play. The local council has also invested in small businesses. In particular, it has ensured that our top of town is small business-friendly. We have a shop-front grant scheme to help improve the appearance of the shops in the top of town, with up to £5,000 made available through the council, and we are continuing to develop that area as a centre of retail activity in the town. In particular, I thank Councillor Terri Reid, who spearheaded that initiative. I know that local retailers are also grateful. I think it is the teamwork and partnership between our local small businesses, the local council and parliamentarians that makes that work as well as it can.

We like to celebrate small business success in Basingstoke. We have the Inspire business awards, now the largest business awards in Hampshire. This year we celebrated small business of the year winner the Basingstoke Energy Services Co-operative, a fantastic organisation that I know well. An outstanding example of a co-operative run on sustainable values, it is a deserving winner of the Inspire award. This Saturday, I, like many other right hon. and hon. Members, will be going along to join small businesses in our market square to celebrate small business Saturday.

I would like to take a couple of minutes to comment on some of the announcements made by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor yesterday that will be of particular benefit to businesses in my constituency and indeed every constituency, such as the fuel duty freeze and the structural review of business rates, as well as the road improvements announced earlier this year. In my constituency, the improvements to the M3 in the Winchester and Fleet areas as well as the Black Dam roundabout improvements funded by the Government will make a huge difference to local businesses’ ability to get in and out of the town, improving their ability to trade effectively.

The abolition of employers’ national insurance contributions for those taking on apprentices is also a positive measure for small businesses, which are taking a real risk when they take on extra staff. The more the Government can do to mitigate that risk, the more

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likely small businesses are to take on extra staff, so I particularly wanted to put on record my thanks to the Chancellor for that measure.

There are a number of other measures that I could talk about, but it is important that the House notes the positive way in which the Chancellor’s autumn statement was received by businesses in Hampshire. The Hampshire chamber of commerce said that the Chancellor’s statement will help to create jobs and stimulate economic activity. The Federation of Small Businesses in Hampshire has specifically welcomed the extension to the funding for lending scheme, which will help to provide cash for small businesses. Access to finance can be the difference between a business succeeding and it not succeeding, so it is that sort of insightful announcement that has done so much to generate such a positive reception from businesses in Basingstoke and throughout Hampshire.

If we are to make sure that our economy is the success that we need it be, we must look to the future. I have three questions for the Minister about how we ensure the health of businesses, and small businesses in particular, in the future. In Basingstoke, we are incredibly fortunate to have been nominated by Surrey university to be a hub for the development of 5G technologies, translating 5G research and development into businesses of the future. We will be working with Surrey university’s innovation centre and a consortium of Huawei, Samsung, Fujitsu and many others to ensure that that incredible research is grown into British businesses. That is an exciting opportunity for my community and something that we are well placed to do, because of the incredible skills that we have in our local work force.

My question for the Minister is: is he satisfied by the progress being made in connectivity for small businesses? If we are to exploit not only 4G but 5G technologies to their utmost, we need to make sure that small businesses have the sort of connectivity that enables them to do that. In bygone years, connectivity was all about transport—trains, roads and aeroplanes. Those remain important, but into the millennium and the next century we will need to ensure that broadband connectivity is at the heart of that as well.

My second question for the Minister is about the role of small business in getting more people into work. I am particularly interested in the fact that under this Government we now have record numbers of women in employment, which should be applauded. There has been a global rise in the number of female entrepreneurs, and the gap between the number of women and of men entrepreneurs is closing. Interestingly, the Harvard Business Review recently produced a report stating that 37% of enterprises globally are run by women; 126 million women are running businesses around the world. Dow Jones research has shown that venture-backed companies found to be successful had twice the number of women involved in forming them. Women have a critical role to play in successful businesses. The Government have already done a huge amount to support women into employment, but what else is the Minister planning to make sure that women play a full role in the economic success of this country?

On the back of that, for me, social enterprises are a hugely important part of the ability of this country to form new and small businesses. I pay tribute to Sue

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Dovey, the chief executive of Action Hampshire, who runs the School for Social Entrepreneurs in Hampshire. We have numerous success stories coming through that organisation of women setting up businesses and social enterprises that are hugely successful and beneficial to our community. In particular, I pay tribute to the work of Catherine Waters-Clark, who set up Inspero, a social enterprise giving young people the opportunity to grow vegetables and their own food and then to learn how to cook it. What a wonderful example of how social enterprise can start up a small business that is incredibly important and useful to our local community. My question to the Minister is, what more will he do to support social enterprises, which are a fantastic opportunity for women and men to get into employment or set up their own businesses?

Last but by no means least, there is the important role of enterprise in the lives of young people in this country. In Hampshire, we have an active Young Enterprise organisation. Young Enterprise is the largest business and education charity in the UK, supporting 250,000 young people to learn about business, and it is active in my constituency. One of the most important things that we can do during a child’s education is to teach them about enterprise and the opportunities of entrepreneurship. I will be interested in the Minister’s comments.

Small business is the foundation of British business. The Government’s long-term economic plan provides the right conditions for small businesses. What we have to do is unlock the entrepreneur in all of us, so that we can see our economy thrive and do as well as we need it to in the future. I look forward to the Minister’s responses to my questions.

2.44 pm

Seema Malhotra (Feltham and Heston) (Lab/Co-op): It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hollobone, and to make a contribution to this important debate marking our national small business Saturday this weekend. I again congratulate the hon. Member for City of Chester (Stephen Mosley) on securing the debate. I also thank my hon. Friend the Member for Streatham (Mr Umunna), who helped to build the coalition of support to bring small business Saturday to the UK last year.

I grew up in my parents’ small shop in Hounslow. It was very much a community shop and in many ways it was there that I learned the value of feeling part of and serving in a community. Through that experience, I gained a love for small businesses and an appreciation of the role that they play. Growing up in a shop is a different kind of family lifestyle—although it is a common experience for many in my constituency, as I am sure it is for many in other constituencies. The lifestyle is different because it can sometimes be much harder to separate work and home. The shop or business can be a passion for those who are running it, and it becomes part of the whole family life.

Such a life is also a great challenge, with many small business owners sometimes having a day-to-day struggle to make ends meet. They need all the skills—whether being the strategist, the marketing expert, the one who sorts out technology, the accountant or the financial manager. I recall many instances of my father being up late at night dealing with the accounts after putting the kids to bed. When we think about and

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thank small businesses and their contribution, it is important to recognise the daily challenges faced by many of them.

Many small business owners have also faced such challenges as part of the cost-of-living crisis that we have experienced. I have met many running businesses in my constituency who were struggling to make ends meet. They talked about problems with banks and about taking out extra loans to get through tough times. They welcomed Labour’s commitment to freeze energy bills, because that would save not only families but small businesses significant costs of up to £5,000 a year.

Another important point about small businesses that has already been made is their social contribution. Small businesses make our communities feel so much safer and more friendly. They can make a difference by being open slightly later; when they shut early, local streets can feel deserted and far less safe.

I hope that this weekend we will see many more residents and visitors shopping in local businesses—not only celebrating their success, but helping them with their revenues and growth and making them feel much more valued as real actors and players in our community. It is an excellent fact that 43% of consumers who knew about small business Saturday last year said that they spent more on the day, which contributed to some £500 million in trade. I hope to see that figure exceeded this year. I am certainly looking forward to starting my Christmas shopping in Feltham and Heston in our small businesses.

Small business Saturday is also a chance to celebrate how local businesses can contribute on the national stage. One business in my constituency, Kool Cakes, was founded by Kulwinder Paul Kumar. He was one of the official cake makers for Her Majesty’s diamond jubilee and he made Frankie’s cake in the 2012 “Big Brother”. It is quite something to go into his small shop in Heston, where I often stop for tea and a slice of eggless cake, and to see pictures of such things on the wall and to think, “Actually, this is a local business.” Such people are heroes—national ones as well as local ones.

Many hon. Members have referred to women who run businesses. Last year on small business Saturday, I stopped for a cup of tea at Charlie’s Café in Feltham, which is run by Carol Chownsmith. She is another example of somebody who comes forward because they want to do something that is a passion of theirs and that will make a contribution to their community—a place where local people can come to meet, eat and share their lives. This weekend, I will also visit Heston Florist, which I know is doing some excellent special offers for Christmas—Christmas is, of course, at the forefront of many people’s minds.

I say all this because it is important to think about the character of our businesses. They serve the needs of members of the local community. It is important to have access to such vibrancy and to a range of businesses; it is so much more attractive than going into a supermarket, where the level of service is not nearly as personal.

I will touch on a few other matters. The first has already been raised by several hon. Members: the importance of creating an infrastructure of support and the important role of local authorities, chambers of commerce and others in helping to achieve that. In

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Hounslow, we have West London Business and the Hounslow chamber of commerce, which do a lot of work to help to network businesses and encourage training programmes.

Hounslow council also encourages the setting up of small businesses, and has made a big difference during the past year by introducing a free half hour of parking—something that many local traders had called for. I have seen the contribution that has made in my inbox, as I now have fewer complaints about the cost of being able to have access to trade on our doorstep. Parking costs had been stopping impromptu trade, so the free parking has made a big difference for traders in my constituency.

Alongside some of the positives, businesses have also raised some challenges with me. For example, they are often on the receiving end of antisocial behaviour. Also, if local authorities do not clear waste quickly enough from in front of their shops, that can be unsightly. Small business owners spend hours and hours in their place of work—they do not leave and come home—so that place is important to their well-being. I have been working with local police on tackling antisocial behaviour and the small crime that affects local shops. That kind of work is incredibly important and we must focus on it at the national level as well. It does not just help shopkeepers and small business owners to feel safe; it is better for the workers in those stores and creates a safe environment for consumers so that they can shop in and support local businesses, whether in the morning, afternoon or evening.

Toby Perkins: I am enjoying my hon. Friend’s contribution immensely. She focused on the important role for local authorities in supporting small businesses and on the connection between many different aspects of public services and the success of small businesses. Is she concerned about the autumn statement, in which we heard that there will be absolutely unprecedented cuts in public spending—much of which I suspect will fall on local authorities? We cannot sit in this place and say, “This is what we are doing for local authorities,” and then close our eyes to the impact of local authority cuts on the capacity of councils to support small businesses in their areas.

Seema Malhotra: My hon. Friend makes an important point. I worry about the extent of the cuts and the damage that they will do. We absolutely need to respond to those cuts and listen to our businesses and local councils in the debate about them. Reform is also important. We have seen some innovations such as the sharing of work between local authorities and the police, as has happened in Hounslow, with them working together, co-locating and sharing budgets. That will make a huge difference.

Another issue is skills and relationships with local schools. There are some excellent examples—from abroad as well as from this country—of young people in schools getting access to work experience. That gives access to the world of work and an understanding, through experience, of its opportunities and satisfaction; it also allows young people to experience some of the challenges of running an enterprise.

Will the Minister tell us to what extent building links between local businesses and schools is part of a programme for work experience development, including for under-16-year-olds in schools? To what extent is that embedded

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in strategies for local enterprise partnerships and other parts of our economic infrastructure? Support for small businesses on skills and on the ways in which they connect to their communities should be part of a coherent national strategy—it should not just be subject to what a local authority does.

I will close by saying that it is important that we should have had this debate and shared some perspectives from small businesses in our constituencies. As politicians, we must stay live to the reality. Small businesses are the backbone of our economy, and the giants of the future often start small. Supporting businesses when they start up so that they can grow is an incredibly important challenge and one on which we must maintain a national focus.

Mr Philip Hollobone (in the Chair): If the Front Benchers wish to split the remaining time between them, they will have 45 minutes each, but it is not compulsory for them to do so.

2.56 pm

Toby Perkins (Chesterfield) (Lab): Thank you for that advice, Mr Hollobone. I will take both parts of it seriously. It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, for what I believe is the first time.

I congratulate the hon. Member for City of Chester (Stephen Mosley) on securing what has been an excellent and timely debate about small business Saturday. The debate has ranged over a variety of issues, but has had at its heart a recognition of the exciting opportunity the day brings. For Members across the House to have a chance to speak about the importance of small businesses and of small business Saturday just two days before the event is very welcome.

[Jim Sheridan in the Chair]

Today the small business Saturday bus tour reaches its conclusion, as it visits Camden. Last year, memorably, it drove up Downing street and was given a prominent and welcome salute. Whether moving from Westminster to Camden is going up in the world or down is a matter of opinion—I will let individual Members make up their own mind on that—but the tour has been very successful, going out into communities to let businesses know what they can do to promote the day, and ensuring that people know it is happening and that they have an opportunity to support it.

Many hon. Members have been on the bus when it has visited their constituency. It has made 14 visits over the past three weeks. I was there for the tour’s launch in Leeds on 17 November, and very impressive it was, too. I was delighted when on 24 November it came to Chesterfield and I had the opportunity to promote what small business Saturday is all about in my own constituency. The bus tour has been right around the country, to Leeds, York, Edinburgh, Belfast, Manchester, Nottingham, Norwich, Birmingham, Cardiff, Bristol, Plymouth, Lambeth and Camden, as well as to Chesterfield, and has been well saluted. Anyone who has been on it and had the opportunity to see people’s response will have a sense of how strongly people in our communities feel about how important small businesses are, a feeling that has been reflected in the debate.

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Small business Saturday in 2013 was a massive success. It drove hundreds of millions of pounds of extra trade to British small businesses and 48% of UK consumers were aware of the day. The hon. Member for City of Chester said there were 1.5 million Facebook views and that #SmallBizSatUK was trending in the top three on Twitter all day. Some 40% of all local authorities supported the campaign and hundreds of events took place across the UK. It was probably the biggest celebration of small businesses the UK has ever seen.

The hon. Gentleman was generous in his recognition of the role of my hon. Friend the Member for Streatham (Mr Umunna) and the fact that this event has been taken up right across the political sphere. It is another example of what happens when everyone in Britain gets together in support of Labour party ideas. It shows what can be achieved, and he was generous in reflecting that. It is right to recognise that wherever the idea started, the most important thing is that it is being supported universally. It also demonstrates what can be achieved in these straitened times without necessarily having a big pot of Government money. Innovative ideas are often what matter, and campaigns that start from the bottom up are incredibly powerful. That was good.

I want to reflect on some of the contributions to this excellent debate. The hon. Gentleman was right to emphasise the importance of small business Saturday. We often think of it in the context of retail and shopping, but it is about much more than that and his comments reflected that. If anyone thought of small business Saturday purely in the context of retail, the fact that a funeral director won the award in his constituency may have removed that misapprehension. The hon. Gentleman made a great speech and I was pleased to hear it and to take up some of the challenges he offered.

The hon. Gentleman listed measures that he thought were positive and then said he did not want a party political debate. He might have hoped for a little too much there, but his point about business rates is incredibly important. He asked me whether the Labour party supports the Government’s aims for the review of business rates. I am not entirely clear what those aims are, but the fact there will be a review is positive. Increasingly in the last few years, the level of business rates has been seen as punitive. We have the highest level of corporate property tax in the G20, corresponding with the lowest level of corporation tax in the G7. We have said we want to maintain the lowest level of corporation tax, but a focus on constantly reducing profit tax and having ever spiralling corporate property tax encourages an economy in which businesses bring their books to the UK, but do not bring their jobs and manufacturing or a presence on the high street. I totally support a review of business rates, but whether I support what the Government want that review to find, I am thus far unable to enlighten the hon. Gentleman, because I am not entirely clear what their aims are. I certainly welcome the fact that there will be a significant debate.

My hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow North East (Mr Bain) made a wide-ranging speech focusing on the importance of a small business administration at the heart of Government. He will be pleased to know that a future Labour Government will want to introduce that, in recognition of the need for Departments throughout Whitehall to work together to support businesses,

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particularly small businesses. He also focused on procurement, which is an area where the Government could do much more to support small businesses. That point was echoed by other hon. Members.

My hon. Friend also spoke about the universal broadband commitment. In my time in my present role, I have been to 45 areas of the country doing small business consultations, and at almost every one broadband access was raised. A few days ago, at a lunch with the Rural Shops Alliance focused on the needs of rural businesses, the alliance spoke strongly about the importance of a more universal offer on broadband.

The hon. Member for High Peak (Andrew Bingham) reflected on the many different roles that a small business owner has. I tried to combine those with being a parliamentary candidate so I know how difficult it is.

Andrew Bingham indicated assent.

Toby Perkins: The hon. Gentleman is indicating that he did the same. It was no easy task. In what he described as an evangelical contribution, he highlighted the importance of support for business owners, who often have brilliant business ideas but do not instantly have the different knowledge bases needed. The Government should take some responsibility for supporting access to skills development, so that small businesses are not shut out of Government contracts because they cannot find their way through complicated procurement processes. We must ensure they have access to apprenticeships and Government schemes such as funding for lending. There are pieces of knowledge that are found in big businesses, but not when someone starts a small business. Providing such support for small businesses is incredibly important.

The hon. Gentleman argued that we should make every day a small business day, and won support from other hon. Members. That was an interesting idea. He and I are former small business owners, and all small business owners I speak to do not want special favours or expect people to shop with them as a favour. All they want is a fair chance for people to consider what they have to offer and whether it is worth buying from them, taking a step off the beaten track and looking down some of the small arcades where many of those businesses are located.

Small business Saturday is not about saying that big businesses are bad, or suggesting that we do not need to support all our retailers. We are not in any way demeaning the contribution that big businesses make. What it says is that on one day every year, let us all take a bit of extra time to look at the hidden gems on our high streets or just off them. When we have visited them and perhaps spent money with them, we may return to them naturally because we found things that we did not know were out there. To my mind, that is what small business Saturday is all about.

Andrew Bingham: The hon. Gentleman is right. Our business did not want or expect special favours; we just wanted a fair chance to ask people to look at the product, to look at the price and to give us a fair crack of the whip. We just wanted an even playing field and a fair chance to compete with the big boys.

Toby Perkins: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for saying that because it fits in with something I will say in a few moments about the Government’s role of

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ensuring that all businesses in a free market get a fair chance. His contribution was powerful in several ways and I look forward to returning to it.

My hon. Friend the Member for Middlesbrough (Andy McDonald) reflected on the fact that small business owners often work incredibly long hours to keep the wheels of commerce turning, and he was right to point that out. He also said that they are often the last to be paid, both personally in terms of taking money out of the business, and often because they are way down the list of supplier payments. As he knows, the Labour party feels passionate about that, and there is a role for the Government to ensure that we do more to eradicate the scourge of late payment to small businesses.

The sense of excitement and anticipation my hon. Friend feels as he looks forward to small business Saturday positively crackled out of every word of his contribution. He demonstrated his wide-ranging—almost encyclopaedic—knowledge of the small businesses in Middlesbrough, and he particularly promoted the fabulous fashions available there. He did not let us know whether he was dressed in one of the latest of those fashions, but I suspect that he and my hon. Friend the Member for Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland (Tom Blenkinsop), who was here a moment ago, are examples of just some of the fashions available on the Middlesbrough high street, and what fine examples they are too.

The hon. Member for Cheadle (Mark Hunter) paid tribute to the businesses that go the extra mile. He made an incredibly important point about the contribution businesses often make to the vibrancy of the high street and the community by supporting initiatives, either with local authorities or as part of the business community, and business improvement districts have been important contributors in that respect. It is important that everyone gets together to make sure our high street has a vibrant offer.

Many hon. Members reflected on the progress that has been made on woman entrepreneurs and on their importance, and that is an incredibly important issue. One of the key challenges the country continues to face is how to develop women’s entrepreneurial potential further, particularly after they have had children. We continue to do less well than we could, because of the impact of child care costs and the fact that we are a time-poor society in many ways. Broadband is important, because women entrepreneurs often want to run businesses from home. There are therefore a huge number of challenges the Government should look to take up, and it is great that Members have reflected on the importance of the issue.

Maria Miller: The hon. Gentleman has reflected on the importance of child care, particularly for women entrepreneurs. I therefore hope that he will welcome the tax break that the Government have, for the first time, given the self-employed in relation to child care. Surely that is an important step in the right direction, and I hope that he will support it.

Toby Perkins: I absolutely do. The right hon. Lady may be aware that the proposal first featured in Labour’s small business taskforce report, and we are pleased that the Government have brought it forward. Whoever’s idea it is, the fact that good ideas are followed up is positive.

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The right hon. Lady is right to focus on child care. She and many other people across the House will look forward to the day when child care is not seen as just a women’s issue, but it remains one of the barriers that women entrepreneurs face. I am therefore pleased that the Labour party has made a commitment to increase the level of free child care to 25 hours a week. We have seen some positive steps under this Government, notwithstanding our concerns about the increase in costs in the sector. However, I entirely agree with the right hon. Lady.

I also enjoyed the right hon. Lady’s earlier contribution, in which she paid tribute to the Federation of Small Businesses. She also gave us an evocative historical tour of her constituency. She was right to say that small businesses are an important part of the history of our town centres, and we want them to be a part of their futures as well. That is what this debate and small business Saturday are all about.

My hon. Friend the Member for Feltham and Heston (Seema Malhotra) spoke about the extent to which small businesses can make an impression on the national, as well as the local, stage. She also mentioned the importance of the relationship between our public services and local authorities and our small businesses.

One thing that has come across in the debate is how widespread support is on this issue. My hon. Friend the Member for Middlesbrough spoke about some of the work he has done in his constituency. I did a little research before the debate to find out what happened last year, and I was amazed by the different contributions people told me they had made. My hon. Friend the Member for Bury South (Mr Lewis) wrote to local small businesses and to business groups such as the local chamber of commerce to encourage them to participate in the festivities. My hon. Friend the Member for Bolton West (Julie Hilling) spent the first small business Saturday on the high street in the Horwich area of her constituency interacting with people and promoting the small businesses there. My hon. Friend the Member for Wakefield (Mary Creagh) did her Christmas shopping at the Wood street Christmas market on small business Saturday, combining important family duties with promoting the high street in a very practical way.

My hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Wavertree (Luciana Berger) backed local festivals, including I Love Allerton Road and Loving Lodge Lane—there is a lot of love going on in Liverpool—to promote and support the small businesses that trade in those areas of her constituency. My hon. Friend the Member for Dudley North (Ian Austin) publicised the free parking on offer in his constituency, to support the 100,000 people in the wider local authority area who are employed by small businesses. Finally, I had the opportunity to visit 25 different small businesses right across Chesterfield and Staveley—I should stress that I am not being competitive—and I have photos of me at all of them on the wall of my constituency office.

I was also delighted to see that local authorities of all colours have been backing small business Saturday in their own way. Brent has a campaign called “Think Brent, Celebrate Local”. In Stockton, the local council has opened the Enterprise Arcade, with 13 new businesses

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testing out their retail ideas ahead of small business Saturday. Ashfield district council is one of many local authorities that will be supporting small business Saturday by offering free car parking. Waltham Forest is running its “Hidden Gems” campaign, which fits in with what I was talking about a moment ago. It encourages people to get off the beaten track slightly. The council has showcased a map giving independent retailers, cafés and bars an opportunity to promote themselves in their local community. Derby city council is hosting an event that will showcase a wide variety of support for small businesses and provide networking opportunities.

Community campaigners up and down the country got in touch to talk about what they were doing. My hon. Friend the Member for Middlesbrough reflected on what was happening in Stockton and Louise Baldock’s contribution. In Harlow, Suzy Stride worked to promote small business Saturday by visiting a local “mumtrepeneurs” group promoting the message about female business owners that we have just reflected on. Mari Williams led a small business Saturday in Whitchurch, working with the local community and trader association, and more than 50 businesses took part. Lynette Kelly in Leamington set up a business consultation event at the Lamats hardware store in Regent place on her patch. Andrew Pakes in Milton Keynes worked with the local council to provide high street information packs. Catherine Atkinson ran a “Shop Local” campaign in Ilkeston and Long Eaton. Right across the country, people from across the business community and the political scene, as well as community campaigners, worked together to see what they could do on that one day to promote small businesses. That provides a really powerful recognition of the importance of small businesses and small business Saturday.

The hon. Member for City of Chester spoke about wanting to be positive, and that is absolutely right. We need to say what we in this place can positively do, and we need to think about what the small business community might ask of us in relation to small business Saturday. However, we should also make sure that supporting small businesses is something we do not just for Christmas, but every day of the year.

There are a number of things a future Labour Government should aim to do. The first, which we have had a lot of focus on in the debate, relates to business rates. Labour has a specific proposal to reduce business rates in its first year in government. That would be paid for by not taking forward the final 1% of the planned corporation tax cut and, instead, ploughing all that money into supporting the 1.5 million small firms with a rateable value under £50,000. That would be a really significant step, which would reduce business rates in the first year and freeze them in the second year. That is not a discount approach, and there would not be an underlying rate that is going up all the time, with a discount being offered, as we are seeing currently; there would actually be a real cut and then a freeze. We also have a proposal to freeze energy bills. Energy is one of the highest costs that small businesses pay, and our proposal would save the average small business £1,800.

The banking system was mentioned. Small businesses consistently say that limited access to finance is the biggest barrier to their growth; 89% of UK small businesses are locked into the five big banks for banking facilities, and we are committed to a more competitive banking

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system. Hon. Members reflected on Nick Tott’s suggestion in 2011 of a British business bank. We are delighted that the Government’s British business bank is morphing more into what we originally suggested, but we think that we can go much further with that—in addition to a generation of new local banks.

A primary child care guarantee would give all parents of primary schoolchildren guaranteed access to child care through their school, from 8 am to 6 pm—we have heard about the need to offer more free child care to nursery age children. We recognise that that would be incredibly important to small businesses.

We are concerned that the privatisation of Royal Mail threatens the universal service obligation. We will campaign to ensure that, under a Labour Government, it will remain.

Late payments mean that small businesses do not get money they are entitled to; 2,500 businesses a year go bust because they have not been paid the money they are owed. The proposals that we have made in debates on the Small Business, Enterprise and Employment Bill to put the onus on customers to pay on time, rather than on small businesses to report them, will be taken forward in the Labour party manifesto. Those proposals have won support from the small business community, including from the Federation of Small Businesses and the Forum of Private Business. Working with councils and the high street, a future Government will be able to make a positive offer on various aspects of skills, which will make a real difference.

I want to repeat my congratulations to the hon. Member for City of Chester and all those who spoke in the debate, and I have a few questions for the Minister. First, we have heard about what action people are taking to support small businesses, and to support and promote small business Saturday. The fact that it is a bottom-up development is valuable, but a quarter of a mile from us in Victoria street there is a huge amount of resource, and it would be interesting to know what contribution the Government have made to supporting the day.

The autumn statement highlighted the fact that consumer debt is fast approaching a record level. Is the Minister concerned about that? Does he think it might affect future high street growth? He will know that the Office for Budget Responsibility predicted in relation to the autumn statement that consumer debt will be higher in the next two years than it was at its pre-recession peak. There is a sense that much high street growth is fuelled by consumer debt.

I am interested in what the Minister may say about balance, in the context of giving communities a say about the make-up of their high street. Often a lack of attention to planning commitment in a high street has led to action that is good in the short term but destroys the look of the town centre in the long term. We need to support town centres through transition periods. Does the Minister think the balance is right, at the moment, between the need for local authorities and communities to have a say about what happens in the high street, and the need for planning to provide opportunities for those with entrepreneurial or innovative development ideas? I have a sense that the Government see planning as a barrier to growth; what do they propose to do in support of getting the right balance in high streets between reflecting history and not preventing reasonable, sympathetic growth?

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I look forward to the Minister’s responses, and I have enjoyed winding up an incredibly constructive debate.

3.24 pm

The Minister for Business and Enterprise (Matthew Hancock): It is a pleasure to respond to this debate about small business Saturday, so ably and eloquently opened by my hon. Friend the Member for City of Chester (Stephen Mosley), who represents the city of my birth. He is a great ally and friend of small businesses in Chester and beyond. He talked about the difficulties of retail space in Chester—its cost, and the accompanying business rates—and I know very well what he was talking about, because it was the pounding ground of my youth. I am sure that shopkeepers, whether their shops are old or new, will welcome the increase of small business rate relief for retail outlets to £1,500, which was announced yesterday. I hope it will allow them to put the small business Saturday card in their windows, and participate in the day, with even more enthusiasm.

The debate has been positive and cross-party, and small business Saturday has strong cross-party support. I want to answer the first of the questions put to me by the hon. Member for Chesterfield (Toby Perkins)—I almost called him my hon. Friend; we spend so much time together these days that it is almost coming to that—about what the Government are doing to promote small business Saturday. We are putting a huge amount of effort into doing that, but crucially it is a bottom-up, small business-led campaign.

The idea came, of course, from the United States of America, and when we were approached to build it up in the UK we were very keen. However, we are also keen that the Government should not take the lead. I acknowledge the work done by the Opposition Front Benchers to ensure that the enterprise is truly cross-party. Therefore, although the Government have put effort in, we have chosen not to take a lead. It is far better for small business Saturday to be led by the hundreds of thousands, and hopefully in due course millions, of small businesses that participate.

Toby Perkins: I agree entirely with the Minister; but he does not usually hide his light under a bushel, so can he be a little more specific? He said that the Government have put in a huge amount of effort, so what specifically have they done?

Matthew Hancock: Most of the support has been on the communications front, through the brilliant Michelle Ovens, to whom I pay tribute for leading the private organisation for small business Saturday. The communications effort last year included hosting the small business Saturday bus in Downing street and ensuring that the Government communication machine came in behind small business Saturday. This year we will hold a street market in Downing street, and we have invited 100 of the most exciting small businesses in the country. The street stalls are already being constructed in Downing street, to make it an exciting part of the day. The market will run from tomorrow, in advance of and into small business Saturday. We will have Ministers from the Prime Minister down fanning out across the country to celebrate the day, and I am sure that even the Business Secretary will get involved.

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What we have done has mainly been on the communications side; but to that must be added the policy changes we have made. The Government are incredibly enthusiastic about small business. Of course, a stable and growing economy is the No. 1 thing that can help small business. My hon. Friend the Member for High Peak (Andrew Bingham) talked about the problems of late payment, and the effect of a big customer going bust or going into liquidation. That happened to my family business when I was growing up. It is a very painful memory, because we were days away from going bust, which would have had serious consequences not only for the 20 or so people we employed, for whom we felt a responsibility, but for my mother and stepfather, who worked in the business. I thought my hon. Friend put it incredibly powerfully. Of course, not only is High Peak one of the most beautiful parts of the country, but it has had 2,600 start-ups since 2010, when he became the local representative.

The stable macro-economy makes an important contribution to small businesses. On tax, the hon. Member for Chesterfield said that it was not important to reduce taxes on profits. I know it is his party’s policy to oppose that reduction, and I do not want to get too much into that, but the point is that reducing corporation tax sends out a signal that we support and celebrate businesses of all sizes and allows businesses to be attracted to the UK. At the same time, we have to tackle business rates, and we propose to do so with a review, which will report after the election. Business rates raise over £20 billion, so they make a significant fiscal contribution, but the complaints I receive are mostly about their design; they become an overhead, rather than being related to the amount of turnover or profit. They are a higher-risk tax than either corporation tax on profits or taxes on the pay of employees, such as national insurance.

Toby Perkins: The Minister will be glad to know that my right hon. Friend the Member for Morley and Outwood (Ed Balls) has declared that we will continue to have the lowest corporation tax in the G8. On business rates, when Government set out on a review, they usually have an idea of what they want to find at the end of that. We accept that a lot of evidence will come in before the report’s final make-up becomes clear, but will the Minister give us an idea of what the Government see the end point looking like?

Matthew Hancock: We announced the review yesterday, so the hon. Gentleman will not be surprised to hear that I do not have its conclusions today. However, we can see the direction of travel. We have reduced the impact of business rates on retail outlets and capped the increase in business rates. We have also extended the discount through small business rate relief, which, when the previous Government left office, was about to close. We have continually extended that—we have done so for a further year from 1 April this year, so we can see the direction of travel.

We will want to get the details right, so we are very keen to hear about how we do that from small businesses, their representative bodies and others with an interest. However, I take the point, made by my hon. Friend the Member for High Peak, that small business people do

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not have the time to go and lobby their MPs because they are too busy running their businesses. He is absolutely right about that.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Basingstoke (Maria Miller) made a powerful speech about small businesses in Basingstoke. Let me answer her questions specifically. Am I satisfied with connectivity for small businesses? No, I am not. We are rolling out broadband and increasingly the country is being covered by superfast broadband. The roll-out of 4G has helped with connectivity, but none of these things is complete. I have visited a centre that conducts research into 5G, which is an exciting technology, but the most exciting thing about it is that the research began even before the roll-out of 4G started, which is a sign that we have our eyes on the future. There is a lot of work to do to get all that right. Places in the world such as South Korea are absolutely miles ahead of us on this issue, and we need to keep pushing hard.

My right hon. Friend asked about women in work and promoting female entrepreneurs, and she and I have worked on that in the past. A record number of women are in work, and I am also glad that the gender pay gap has come down to a record low. The details show that for those under the age of 40, the gender pay gap has all but been eliminated. I would like to see it eliminated altogether, but that is a big, positive change.

Undoubtedly, the most important things for female entrepreneurs are exactly the same things that help male entrepreneurs—making it easier to employ people, making it easier to start a business and having a stable macro-economy—but there are specific things that can particularly help. My right hon. Friend spoke about the challenges of running a small business while supporting a family, and in many cases being the primary support for a family. I know about that very well—not as a mother, but as a son—because my mother ran our family’s small business. I remember very well sitting on her knee as a child while she worked on the finances of the business. She truly was juggling things, almost literally. We have tried across this Parliament to push the extension of support for child care, and I know that Members on both sides support that.

My right hon. Friend asked specifically about social enterprise. The things that make it easy to run an enterprise that is primarily for profit are the sorts of things that can help expand a social enterprise, but we can do—and have done—more specific things to support social enterprise. That, again, is a cross-Government piece of work, because work comes out of all the different Departments to make it easier to grow social enterprises. I am glad to see that the number of social enterprises is rising as well as the number of small businesses.

The hon. Member for Feltham and Heston (Seema Malhotra) also discussed women in business. She talked about local heroes, some of whom I had not even heard of, so I was very glad to hear about those. She spoke specifically about linking enterprise to schools—that is a big agenda that she may hear more about in coming weeks—and particularly about ensuring that schools promote enterprise and business as an exciting and viable future. We have tried to get more people from all sorts of walks of life, including from business, into schools directly to interact with pupils. In fact, we have put a duty on schools to open up to external employers,

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business people and others, in order to lift horizons and engage more with students. I know that there is more to do on that agenda.

The next steps we need to take are these: we need to make sure that we continue the drive so that where regulation is necessary, it is easier to navigate, and we need to deregulate where possible. We have saved businesses over £1.5 billion in annual costs. We have scrapped or improved 84% of health and safety regulations; thousands of small businesses have been removed from proactive health and safety inspections, for example.

We also have to do more on exports, which were mentioned by the hon. Member for Glasgow North East (Mr Bain). When our major trading partners are struggling and, in some cases, in recession, exports are more difficult, but many small businesses get into exports either by accident or because they have found a particular niche. Many small businesses increasingly find that if they start a website with their product on it, they end up fulfilling an order somewhere else around the world, and that is how they get into exporting. However, fewer than half of businesses have websites through which they can trade—that is, websites on which money changes hands. That point is linked to the one about expanding connectivity, because being able to trade through a website is important.

We are also simplifying and streamlining how businesses access our support services. The website greatbusiness.gov.uk is a single place where businesses can now go for all support from Government and others. We heard the reports from small businesses that the offer of support from Government was often confused and in lots of different pots, so we have brought it all together in one place.

Several hon. Members mentioned the business bank and the need for such a bank. That is absolutely right, so I am delighted that on 1 November the British business bank was given independent status and is now fully functioning. Yesterday, in the autumn statement, it got £400 million of extra support. I am excited about the potential of the business bank. I have already seen it in action—I have visited some of the schemes that it supports—and it is undoubtedly helping with access to finance. However, the biggest thing that we can do to support access to finance is to get the banking system as a whole on an even keel and supporting small businesses. I welcome news of moves in that direction by some of the big banks. There is undoubtedly more local engagement, but this is a long journey after a long journey in the wrong direction in the previous decade or more.

There are 760,000 more small businesses now than there were in 2010. There is a record number of small businesses in the UK—5.2 million. These are the vast majority of businesses in the UK—we could call them the 99%. Conservative Members support them wholeheartedly. There is support across the House for small business Saturday and the work that its promoters are doing to make it a first-rate success. I know that 40% of local authorities were involved in small business Saturday last year. For the first year of an enterprise, that was pretty impressive, but we want to do better and we want small business Saturday to grow and grow.

In my hon. Friend the Member for City of Chester, small businesses have someone who is passionate in his support of them. There are few who would be a better champion of them; there are few whom it would be

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better to have on their side. I pay tribute to him and the work that he has done, not only as the Prime Minister’s small business ambassador for the north-west of England but nationally, through this debate and many other activities, to ensure that people know about small business Saturday this Saturday. I hope that people will shop small, shop local and support small businesses on Saturday and throughout the rest of the year.

3.42 pm

Stephen Mosley: I thank the Minister for his kind words, but it is not just me in this Chamber who has experience of small business. Almost every hon. Member who spoke has such experience, whether they were brought up in a small business or have set up their own business, and anyone who has been involved in a small business knows how difficult that can be. There can be very good times, but there can also be difficult times. As we heard from my hon. Friend the Member for High Peak (Andrew Bingham), the person running a small business has to be the salesman, the accountant, the credit controller and the marketeer; they have to do all those jobs. I remember that when I was setting up my own small business, I had trouble sleeping at night when I realised that I had £6,000 of expenditure a month to pay out and no visible means of raising the money. For me, it worked out, but it can be very difficult. The more support that small business gets, the better.

There were some fantastic speeches today. The two that I will concentrate on are those by the hon. Members for Middlesbrough (Andy McDonald) and for Feltham and Heston (Seema Malhotra), because too many times during this Parliament I have been sitting on the Government Benches and have heard Opposition Members paint a rather bleak picture of their constituencies. As a business man, as someone who would want to invest, I would think, “Why would I invest in a community that is portrayed as bleak?” Neither hon. Member did that. They both portrayed their constituencies as vibrant and happening, and they talked about the huge successes in those communities. I listened to them and thought, “Those are the sort of places where I would want to go; they’re the sort of places where I would want to shop; they’re the sort of places where I would want to invest and set up a business.” As Members, we all have the responsibility of championing our own constituencies, of encouraging investment and of supporting the businesses in our communities, and those two hon. Members in particular did an absolutely fantastic job today.

The single most important thing that came out of the debate was that vibrant communities need vibrant small businesses. By backing and supporting small business, we can create successful communities. If we take one thing from small business Saturday, it should be that we all have a role to play in securing the future of small business. By encouraging our constituents, our local councils and business organisations and others to get behind small business and small business Saturday, we can increase turnover in our local shops, increase the number of shops in our local communities and improve our communities. Small business Saturday was a huge success last year, and I hope that it will be an even larger success this year.

Question put and agreed to.

3.46 pm

Sitting adjourned.