Matthew Hancock, Conservative MP for West Suffolk, speaks to IBTimes UK about the bill
Matthew Hancock, Conservative MP for West Suffolk, speaks to IBTimes UK about the billWikicommons

Britain's government unveiled The Small Business, Enterprise and Employment Bill in parliament on 25 June, which is intended to remove barriers to growth for small firms, strengthen the foundations for a sustainable recovery and create jobs.

The bill includes improving access to finance, introducing a Pubs Code and Adjudicator, and enhancing the reputation of the UK "as a trusted and fair place to do business".

Matthew Hancock, Skills and Enterprise minister and Conservative MP for West Suffolk, worked on the bill with Britain's business secretary Vince Cable.

Hancock worked for five years as an economist at the Bank of England (BoE) and in 2005 moved to work for the then Shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne.

He stepped down from his role with Osborne in February 2010 after being selected as the Conservative candidate for West Suffolk for the 2010 general election.

On winning the seat, Hancock was elected to the Public Accounts Committee.

IBTimes UK decided to catch up with the minister to delve behind the implications of the report.

Q: The bill is intended to improve SME access to finance and increase trade credit availability by a potential £1.8bn (€2.2bn, $3.1bn). How exactly will the bill 'level the playing field'?

A: The bill will make it easier for small businesses to access finance as it will enable the HMRC to share non-financial VAT registration data on a controlled basis to qualifying organisations.

This will remove one of the barriers for small businesses especially if they want to go to competitor banks which don't have years' worth of their credit history.

We have a highly concentrated business banking market and this is only just one part of a big drive the department has over creating a more competitive landscape with more alternative finance providers.

Q: How important are challenger banks to this picture and in relation to the bill and, of course, what support will the government lend to these firms?

A: We've got a huge programme of effort to support challenger banks and in no other industry has there been so many new entrants to shake-up the existing landscape.

The removal of regulation of balance sheet size and prudential regulation in 1997 with Financial Services Authority (FSA) was a disaster
- Hancock

Britain's challenger banks are now reaching the sort of size that are making a difference to financing.

We will help support them through three ways. Firstly, we will support them with capital costs, meaning they, as a bank, will be able to access finance more easily themselves.

Secondly, we will make it easier for them to interact with businesses seeking their services with credit data measures in this bill.

And thirdly, by developing an active programme of engagement and reducing regulatory barriers to their growth.

Q: While removing these barriers will help businesses, what is your response to criticism that the government is watering down regulation so soon after the financial crisis?

A: We've got to have the right kind of regulation. Clearly, the removal of regulation of balance sheet size and prudential regulation in 1997 with Financial Services Authority (FSA) was a disaster but making the banking system more competitive with a broader spread of rules is highly desirable.

[During the FSA times] box ticking regulation was legion and that hindered [competition]. The FSA rulebook trebled in 2008 and it turned into too much bureaucratic regulation and not enough judgement.

Matthew Hancock, Conservative MP for West Suffolk, speaks to IBTimes UK about the bill
Matthew Hancock, Conservative MP for West Suffolk, speaks to IBTimes UK about the billmatthewhancock.co.uk

Q: Pubs are quintessentially a part of the British business landscape. Many have also closed down because of the banks' valuations of the properties tenants reside in, not just because of landlord disputes. Will this bill help SMEs on that front?

A: By putting adjudicator code into law, this will iron out disputes and make it clearer where everyone stands. The bill is on the side of the small publican who have too often not been a position to get a fair deal.

Q: Now onto the employment side of the bill. Will there be any more consultation or changes to zero-hours contracts? Arguably, the exclusivity clause only affects a small portion of those under those contracts and the biggest problem seems to be those who can't move onto permanent work.

A: The bill will deal with the exclusivity clauses and after our consultation period on the subject we found that this is the most important area to deal with.

Crucially, there are some cases where zero-hours contracts suit businesses but we will help deal with disputes.

This is all about making sure businesses play by the rules and that they will not get away with breaking them.
- Hancock

In terms of permanent jobs, over the last few years, the job market performance has been very strong and a majority of those people in work are in permanent and full-time employment.

So, we're not going to take action on that front yet, we have to balance flexibility with fairness.

Q: And on company misconduct, the bill is aimed at strengthening the rules on director disqualifications, by widening the matters a misconduct court takes into account when disqualifying senior executives. What will these include exactly?

A: This is all about making sure businesses play by the rules and that they will not get away with breaking them.

The bill introduces firmer sanctions on those who commit misconduct and fall in line with the international lines ironed out at the recent G8 summit.

We're proud in Britain to have a business environment that is both competitive and exercises good conduct. It is respected as it all comes back to having a strong and responsible culture of corporate governance.