Business courted by Labour

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(First Edition)

LABOUR moved into traditional Thatcherite territory yesterday with an attempt to woo support from small businesses.

Pouring scorn on government proposals to offload up to 20 per cent more of the statutory sick pay bill on to employers, John Smith, the Labour leader, said the cost to companies would be almost pounds 200m.

'This government often talks about cutting red tape and removing burdens from business,' Mr Smith said. 'Yet last weekend we learnt of a further burden facing small businesses.'

A consultation document published at a Labour conference on small firms policy, the party's first co-ordinated attempt to court smaller businessmen and women, calls for a right to charge interest on overdue debts and an end to 'pull-the-plug' practices by high street banks.

It says the traditional relationship between banks and small firms seeking finance could be replaced with an investment fund, managed regionally by the private sector, that would act as an intermediary.