HC Deb 25 February 1999 vol 326 cc528-30
4. Ms Helen Southworth (Warrington, South)

What measures his Department proposes to foster an entrepreneurial culture among small and medium-sized businesses. [71597]

The Minister for Small Firms, Trade and Industry (Mr. Michael Wills)

The recent competitiveness White Paper sets out 75 new commitments to help British businesses succeed, and fostering an entrepreneurial culture lies at their heart. The Department is participating in the development of a national campaign for enterprise to create a more entrepreneurial culture. For existing small and medium enterprises, there will also be an enterprise fund to assist business growth. The Department continues to build on the extensive range of services offered to all businesses through the Business Link network.

Ms Southworth

I thank my hon. Friend for that answer. Will he welcome the exciting and innovative initiatives taking place in my area? Warrington Business Connection, which is led by the local authority, will in April provide the opportunity for 5,000 small and medium businesses to meet, create networks and trade not only in the north-west or even in Britain, but internationally in many different marketplaces. Will he welcome also the newly formed Skills Forum, a public-private sector partnership in Warrington, based around identified business need to support and develop skills in the area? I welcome the prospect of my hon. Friend's coming to Warrington to see that Warrington means business and is effective.

Mr. Wills

I am delighted to welcome that news from my hon. Friend, and I shall be delighted to visit Warrington and see it for myself, as soon as I receive an invitation.

Mr. Peter Brooke (Cities of London and Westminster)

Does the Minister agree that entrepreneurs are entrepreneurs are entrepreneurs, and that what matters far more than encouraging entrepreneurs is not discouraging them?

Mr. Wills

I am very happy to agree with that.

Liz Blackman (Erewash)

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry visited my constituency fairly recently and saw an enterprising small firm that managed to get into the niche market of carbon fibres, capitalising itself on the way. It has now reached a point where it wants to grow on. What help and support do the Government offer firms that want to move from the small to the medium sector?

Mr. Wills

We are providing a range of support through the Business Link network. If my hon. Friend writes to me with details of the firm, I shall be happy to provide specific details for the area.

Mr. Brian Cotter (Weston-super-Mare)

Is the Minister aware that the cost to the smallest businesses—those with five employees or fewer—of introducing the working families tax credit will be £25 million? Does he agree that that is not encouraging for new entrepreneurs? Has he made representations to that effect to the Treasury, and if not, why not?

Mr. Wills

We are introducing a range of measures that we hope will help low-income working families. We are proud of those measures and we will continue to pursue them. As regards helping small businesses, we have a range of measures. The costs to which the hon. Gentleman refers must be seen in context. We want small businesses in this country to prosper, and we are confident that we have the measures to enable them to do so.

Mr. Barry Jones (Alyn and Deeside)

Does my hon. Friend agree that an entrepreneurial business could take a hard knock if its locality suffered the loss of assisted area status? Will he assure me that he will fight hard to keep assisted area status for my constituency, bearing in mind that 4,000 aerospace workers, who are the very spirit of the entrepreneurial British approach, want that status kept, as do the people who work with great enterprise in Deeside industrial park? I am sure that my hon. Friend will fight hard for my people.

Mr. Wills

My hon. Friend is a famous champion of his constituency and his views are well noted. As he knows, the assisted areas map is under review. We shall report the results to the House in due course.

Mr. Tim Boswell (Daventry)

Will the Minister concede that his extremely bland new Labour responses sit ill alongside the additional burdens that he is imposing on small and medium enterprises through the Employment Relations Bill that he is currently considering in Committee with us? Those burdens fall on top of the burdens of cost and book-keeping imposed by the national minimum wage and the working time regulations.

Has the Minister noted the recent press report that South Korea, a country in real economic difficulties, has responded to them by going through its 16,000 regulations and abolishing approximately half of them—this at a time when the British Government have scrapped 20 regulations and imposed 2,400 new regulations? Is not that the wrong kind of productivity?

Mr. Wills

We need no lessons from the Opposition, who introduced 45,000 regulations while they were in government—a record that we are striving not to emulate. As the hon. Gentleman knows, the Employment Relations Bill promotes a range of family-friendly policies. We are proud of them and we do not regard them as a burden on business. We regard them as fostering a spirit of partnership. We are promoting a new spirit of partnership in the workplace, which was sadly lacking from the measures introduced by the previous Government. Far from increasing burdens, we believe that our measures, seen in the round, will decrease the burdens by tackling the crippling cost to business of absenteeism.

According to an estimate by the Confederation of British Industry, that cost was £25 billion in 1996. A new spirit of partnership in the workplace will help to reduce it.