HC Deb 12 July 2001 vol 371 cc915-7
5. Mr. Lindsay Hoyle (Chorley)

What steps she has taken to increase the productivity of small businesses in the north-west region. [2035]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Trade and Industry (Nigel Griffiths)

We have established the Small Business Service in the north-west region to help small businesses enhance their competitiveness and profitability.. It works with key partners, such as the North West development agency, to champion entrepreneurship and minimise the burden of regulation.

Mr. Hoyle

I thank my hon. Friend the Minister for that reply. He will agree that the Small Business Service is very useful. However, could we not also help productivity by cutting some of the burden of red tape? That would assist, and allow small businesses to grow into the medium-sized and large enterprises that we want in the north-west.

Nigel Griffiths

I agree with my hon. Friend in hoping that the Regulatory Reform Act 2001 will make it far easier to tackle outdated, overlapping and overburdensome legislation. Patrick Carter, who has considerable business experience, has been asked to recommend simplifications to the payroll system to help all businesses, especially, I hope, the 3.7 million small businesses.

Mr. Richard Page (South-West Hertfordshire)

Further to the sensible and caring question asked by the hon. Member for Chorley (Mr. Hoyle)—it was a good question—is the Minister aware that on Monday, the British Chambers of Commerce announced the result of a survey of the north-west, which painted a gloomy picture for small businesses, particularly those hit by foot and mouth? Is he aware that tens of thousands of people in the north-west have lost their jobs in the textile industry over the past four years and that that trend is continuing, mainly because of the high value of the pound? Is he further aware that the problems and cuts in companies such as BAE Systems, Marconi and Cammell Laird are resulting in further job losses for the small businesses that supply them? The list goes on and on.

In view of that catalogue of woe, will the Minister now recognise that his response was woefully inadequate? Will he listen to the hon. Member for Chorley and come forward with measures for the north-west that will give help and encouragement for the future? Otherwise the job losses that are taking place in small businesses and manufacturing will continue.

Nigel Griffiths

I do not want to take up more time in the House than I am due, but on two of the key issues the hon. Gentleman is simply wrong. The Government have given an additional £3.65 million to the north-west to ensure that small farmers directly affected by the foot and mouth epidemic have access to good business advice through business links and other help. We are doing as much as possible to support businesses in the north-west, which now employ 3.1 million people—119,000 more than in 1997.

I am sure that what the hon. Gentleman says is not generally accepted by workers in the north-west, especially those in manufacturing, whose average hourly earnings went up from about £8 to more than £10.50 in the most recent five years for which we have figures.