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More help for small businesses looks likely after a Commons debate yesterday (Friday) on proposals in a bill introduced by Peter Luff.
The MP for Mid Worcestershire and Chairman of the Business and Enterprise Committee secured a commitment from the Government to bring forward a package of measures to help small businesses at the Budget in April, including possible measures to ensure the automatic payment of rate relief to eligible businesses.

Peter secured the commitment during the Second Reading of his Private Members’ Bill – the Small Business Rate Relief (Automatic Payment) Bill. His bill, sponsored by the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB), sought to award rate relief to small businesses automatically, rather than the current system where businesses have to apply for it. Peter explained,

“At present around half of small businesses do not apply for the relief. Whether this is because they don’t know about it or find the process too complex is, really, irrelevant. The fact is money small businesses deserve isn’t getting to them. Small businesses are incredibly vulnerable to the effects of the recession – 120 small businesses are failing each day, taking jobs and livelihoods with them.”

Replying for the Government, Minister Sadiq Khan MP said

“The Government are very sympathetic to the aims behind the Bill. In our discussions with the hon. Member for Mid-Worcestershire, his passion about the ends of the Bill and his lack of obsession with the means have been noteworthy.”

He explained that the Government was not convinced the bill was the “best vehicle” for getting such help to small businesses. He did, however, give assurances that Peter’s bill had driven the issue up the agenda, and that the Chancellor had taken note of it, and is working to incorporate elements of the bill into his own Budget statement next month. The Minister said,

“Clearly, Government should support the aims put forward today by the hon. Gentleman with the support of the FSB. Between them, they have come up with a proposal in which there may well be merit. However, until the Budget report, we are not in a position to be certain that this choice would deliver the highest and/or fastest benefit to small businesses from the package of wider options on the business rate.”

In light of these assurances, Peter withdrew his bill.

Commenting after Peter said:

“Although I am naturally disappointed my bill did not get the full Government support I still believe it deserved, I am delighted it has helped remind the Chancellor that more must be done to help small businesses struggling in this recession. In particular, I am glad to hear that he is now considering the automatic payment of rate relief to all eligible businesses alongside other measures to help small businesses in the Budget Statement.

“I too, would like to have gone much further and addressed other issues of concern to small businesses in my bill, but a Private Members’ Bill just doesn’t give the scope to do that. And so with the Minister’s strong suggestion that the Government will shortly bring forward wide-ranging measures of its own, and knowing it would be all too easy for the government to kill my bill, I withdrew it.

“It is now up to the Government to deliver on what seemed a pretty clear commitment – and to deliver quickly. If they don’t, they will not only be going back on assurances they gave me and the House - they will also be turning their backs on small businesses when they need help the most.”

Chairman of the FSB, said:

“This important issue was given a good airing in the debate today and we look forward to what we hope will be a commitment from the Government that rate relief will be automatic for small businesses in the Budget announcement. We are extremely grateful to Peter for tabling the Bill and supporting the FSB in its endeavours”


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