Budget boost to small businesses

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The Government pledged to boost enterprise by providing extra help to smaller firms and to do more to improve workers' skills under a package of Budget measures targeted at business.

Chancellor Alistair Darling told MPs he wanted to make sure Britain remained one of the best countries in the world to do business.

The Government will consult on "radical" new proposals to impose a limit on the amount of regulation that can be imposed by Whitehall departments, he said.

"I will also provide a capital fund of initially £12.5m to specifically encourage more women entrepreneurs."

Mr Darling said there were over 750,000 more small and medium sized firms than when Labour came to power in 1997, and the Government wanted to do more to help the sectors win extra business from the public sector.

"We will take immediate steps to give firms better access to Government contracts, and to help them with their cashflow.

"I am asking Anne Glover, Chief Executive of Amadeus Capital Partners, to look into what other barriers we can remove and the practicality of setting a goal for small and medium enterprises to win 30 per cent of all public sector business in the next five years.

"I believe that this could help promote enterprise in one of our most innovative and dynamic areas of the economy. I believe we can help support them grow their businesses, creating new jobs and opportunities."

Mr Darling announced an extra £60m over the next three years to improve skills, tackle shortages of skilled workers and increase the number of apprenticeships.

The Government published a new 10-year strategy to make the UK the most "enterprising" economy in the world and the best place to start and grow a business.

Measures included a National Enterprise Academy, offering skills training and qualifications to 16 to 19-year-olds, support for young entrepreneurs, the over 50s and women, and a set of detailed measures promoting business mentoring, work placements, skills training, improved careers advice on self-employment and access to business support.

Prime Minister Gordon Brown said: "The UK is well placed to meet the challenges of globalisation but our ability to succeed in the new world will be defined first and foremost by our adaptability. Our success as a trading nation - whether in products, services or knowledge - has and will always result from a spirit of openness, enterprise and innovation. We must unlock this talent."

Business and Enterprise Secretary John Hutton said: "We want more new and growing businesses in the UK and more companies and people acting on their enterprising ideas. The UK's long term prosperity lies in unlocking the talent of enterprise for people from all sections of society and in our small businesses, helping them to grow."

The Institute of Directors (IoD) welcomed the low-key nature of the Budget, which, it said, was what business needed after the recent ill-thought-through announcements on Capital Gains Tax and non-doms.

"We welcome the enterprise agenda, especially as it relates to small businesses. On regulatory reform we have seen many false dawns in the past. Large reductions in the burden is essential, and must be delivered.

"We warmly welcome the decision to postpone the proposals on income shifting, which would have imposed an impossible burden on thousands of small businesses. The policy needs a fundamental re-think. More generally, the tax regime still needs to be simplified and made more business-friendly," said a spokesman.

TUC general secretary Brendan Barber said: "While there are welcome measures today, the Chancellor has not done enough to meet the target of halving child poverty by 2010, but neither has he made it impossible.

"But to do so will require much more bravery in making the super-rich pay their fair share of tax. While the Chancellor has stuck to his non-dom guns, he was wrong to rule out further changes when the threatened talent exodus fails to materialise. The richest non-doms will hardly be troubled by this £30,000 poll tax."