Laurence Robertson: Good morning. It is quite warm in here, so if Members wish to remove their jackets, they are free to do so. I remind Members that if they wish to speak they need to stand in order to catch my eye. I call John Stevenson to move the motion.
I beg to move,
That this House
has considered the contribution of family businesses to local communities in the UK.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Robertson. I am grateful to have the opportunity to debate the importance of family businesses and their contribution to our national economy, our local economy and our communities up and down the country. I appreciate that this might not be the best week for this debate, given that we are approaching Christmas, but this is a really important time of the year for many businesses, particularly in the hospitality industry, and an important time of the year for family businesses to succeed.
I want to put on the record my thanks to the Institute for Family Business for its support and the research that it has carried out into the success of family businesses and also the challenges that many of them face. The institute is the secretariat to the all-party parliamentary group for family business, which I chair, and it has been very supportive for all the time that I have been chairing that APPG.
I want to start the debate with a simple question: what exactly is a family business? There are many different definitions and people will have their own interpretations. The Institute for Family Business set out its own definition in its most recent report, but for me it is quite simply the involvement of family in a business. This can be a sole practitioner—an individual who has set up their own business and is effectively a one-man band. It could be a husband and wife team. The wider family and children could be involved. It could involve other members of the family such as cousins, and of course it could involve different generations. But it is also about the level of control.
When we look at a corporation, we look at the shareholding of that company—how many shares are owned by the family and how many are external. We look at who effectively controls that business. A family business might not always be run by members of the family. It might have independent management or a mixture of family members and outsiders. Each can be equally successful. They all have their own challenges, but that does not detract from the fact that they can be just as successful as a purely family-run business, or as a mixture or with outside control.
The real challenges come when there is third or fourth generation involvement in a family business. They all present different concerns. There are intergenerational matters, and shareholding or ownership of a business can be widely spread among many members of the same family.
What about the sector that the business is involved in? It is estimated that there are around 5 million businesses in the United Kingdom, all of varying sizes. Family businesses make up 85% of that 5 million, so effectively our economy is dominated by such businesses both at the national and local level. I will come specifically to the local level in due course.
The size of the businesses varies enormously. Most are microbusinesses—small one-man bands or small family units. Equally, there are some enormous businesses that have grown from small start-ups. Warburtons is a good example. Historically we could look at Mr Barclay or Sainsbury’s as examples of small businesses many years ago that became huge conglomerates and very large and successful businesses.
Lisa Cameron: I thank the hon. Gentleman for securing this extremely important debate, because family businesses are the bedrock of our local economies. In my own constituency, Glencairn Crystal started as a local family business. It won the Queen’s Award and went on to develop the iconic Glencairn Crystal whisky glass, which is now internationally renowned. Does he agree that, with the correct package of support, financial innovation, contribution and development from Government, family businesses can become iconic and international successes?
The hon. Lady is right. It is always lovely to hear Members promoting family businesses and demonstrating their success. She also highlights an issue that I will come to about how we can ensure they get the support that they need to be successful.
I have talked about family businesses being small or large, but we must also remember that there are some huge international businesses, including Mars and McCain. An interesting general observation is that many large, international family businesses are invariably owned from North America. That indicates that family businesses are not just part of our economy but part of international economies across the world.
Family businesses are involved in all sectors. The obvious one is transport, with large transport businesses up and down the country displaying their logos. They are also in retail and manufacturing. One particular area that features a lot of family businesses is the food and drink sector. That is a very popular sector in which to set up and grow a family business. That has a knock-on impact on the hospitality industry, which has a large number of small family businesses.
Margaret Ferrier: Last week I went to the opening of a state-of-the-art factory by Equi’s Ice Cream in my constituency. That business has been around for a century, with its ice cream sold locally as well as in a number of supermarkets such as Morrisons, Co-op and Asda, and even as far away as Texas. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that such family-owned businesses not only contribute to our communities but are great ambassadors for them?
Absolutely. It is always lovely to hear individual businesses being highlighted by Members of Parliament. That demonstrates that family businesses are not just in one constituency but spread across the whole country. We need to be behind them in our local communities as well as nationally.
From our perspective as Members of Parliament, the importance and contribution of family businesses should not be underestimated. They matter to our national economy. Family businesses employ nearly 14 million people; over 50% of all private sector employment is in family businesses, so the majority of people are employed by a family business. It is estimated that they account for 44% of our GDP. Just think of their contribution to the Treasury, which is vital for our public services.
Family businesses are clearly the backbone of local economies up and down the country as well as nationally. Think of a small family business and the contribution it makes to the Exchequer. If it employs five people, that means five families supported by that business. The contribution goes beyond that, with the payment of national insurance for those five employees, and of corporation tax. It will probably collect VAT for the Exchequer and pay business rates at the local level. It makes a vast contribution, not just to the local but to the national economy. That is replicated up and down the country.
Carlisle is a good example as the home of national and international businesses which employ a lot of people and make headlines locally because of the number they employ and their brand names, such as Nestlé and Pirelli. But drilling down, what matters in many respects is the local family businesses. Story Construction is a first-generation business now moving into the second generation, employing in the region of 500 people. It was set up in the last 30 to 40 years and makes a significant contribution to local construction and to the rail construction industry. Pioneer Foods, a food hospitality business, is into its third generation of making a contribution to Carlisle’s economy. Thomas Graham is in its fifth generation of local leadership.
We have those international brands and companies, but I have just highlighted three individual businesses at the heart of our local economy that employ a lot of people making a vital contribution. They are now into their second, third and fifth generations. The individuals who lead those businesses are also vital to our local communities. They provide leadership. They are often respected, and local people will look up to them and may aspire to be similar to them, and to set up their own businesses in due course.
Wendy Morton: My hon. Friend mentions the contribution of small businesses to the local community. What I often see is something that is almost invisible. Does my hon. Friend agree that business owners often support community events, such as the recent Christmas tree festival in Aldridge?
My right hon. Friend is getting ahead of me. She is absolutely right, and I will come to the contribution that such businesses make to local communities. There are, of course, similar factors for family businesses at the national and local level: the high employment levels in family businesses, the investment that we want to see, and the tax contribution that they make both locally and nationally, which I have already highlighted. I have set out what I think is a powerful demonstration of the importance of family businesses; however, some people would ask what the difference is between a family business and other corporations. Are they not in many respects just the same? I accept and recognise that they face many similar issues.
At present, energy costs are obviously affecting many businesses, both those that are family run and those that have other structures. It is a serious issue right now. On taxation rates, what corporation tax is set at matters to both family businesses and others, although dividend tax and capital gains tax can have a particular influence on family businesses, because of the way they structure themselves and the way the families take profits out of the business. Skills matter to any corporation, as does getting the right staff and ensuring that the right training is in place. That also matters to a family business, which needs to recruit in exactly the same way as any other. Regulation affects different sectors in different ways. I have already highlighted the importance of the food and drink sector, on which regulation clearly has a huge impact.
There are, however, a number of issues that in my view are unique to family businesses. The obvious one is succession. Passing the business on to the next generation, or indeed between families, can be a challenge. Who should inherit? Who takes over? Can the older generation let go and allow the next generation to take the reins of the business? If there are cousins, or two or three generations, involved, how is that dealt with? Those are some of the principal challenges for family businesses, and the Institute for Family Business spends quite a bit of time helping to support family businesses with them.
There are additional challenges with financing and growing family businesses. How do we ensure that a family business can grow in exactly the same way as other corporations? In my view, family businesses have a real strength, in that they can draw financial support from members of the family, which can help with that growth. It can also be a weakness, because they need to attract external finance to grow. Family businesses must be willing to accept outside help and allow external influences to support the business in its attempt to grow. Families have to accept the risk that they may be taken over, or that their influence in the business will be diluted by external investment from other parties.
Family businesses also have some key strengths, such as resilience. They often deal with recessions better than most other businesses. They are flexible and more adaptable in terms of hours of work. A person is more likely to want to work longer hours in their family business to ensure that it will cope with any bumps on the road. Family businesses also take the long view. It is not just about the next set of financial figures; it is about the next generation. That can lead to long-term investment, rather than a short-term view about making profits here and now. The stats suggest that often staff are loyal, and remain with such businesses for far longer than they would otherwise. Also, family businesses are invariably very loyal to their staff, who in many cases have worked for them for many years. That creates a real element of stability.
Kevin Foster: Does my hon. Friend agree that family businesses showed that loyalty to staff during the pandemic? For example, a number of tourism businesses in Torbay decided that the family would take no wages to ensure that staff could be paid, which we would not see in many other corporations.
My hon. Friend makes a valid point. We saw that in the pandemic, and we often see it in recessions as well. Family businesses are more resilient and stay loyal to their staff, and that gets them through in a way that many other businesses would not necessarily tolerate. Another interesting aspect of the research from the Institute for Family Business is that there is more female involvement in family businesses than in general in business; we should research more why that is the case.
Family businesses are often the start of something. They start as very small businesses, then continue within the family, or at least owned or controlled by the family, but with external management; or they dilute and float on the market. I do not think that selling out is a negative, as the business—what the family have created—is successful and can continue to thrive but in a different environment and under a different structure. Life does move on.
I am a solicitor, and work in a practice that was set up in 1805. Until 1916, three generations of the family were involved. Since then, there has been no family involvement, but the business is still going strong today and it had that family involvement for those three generations.
Where I think family businesses provide an extra layer of benefit is in terms not of the economy but of the community. Family businesses are often embedded in their community. The children go to local schools. The business employs local people. The families want the local area to succeed because they live in it and socialise in it—they are part of it. They often get involved, as school governors and in charities and other community organisations. If they are brave, they may even get involved in local politics; they may get involved in other things, such as the local enterprise partnership or the chamber of commerce. They are invariably respected leaders in the community—people want to emulate them. That support to their local areas is a real strength of family businesses and the leaders within them; that element does not show up in national statistics, but it is vital to the success of our communities up and down the community.
I am very conscious of the lack of Government recognition for the importance of family businesses. I think everybody here would recognise that they are the backbone of our economy and a source of strength for our communities. Is there more that the Government could do, on the growing of these businesses, and in understanding their nature, the challenges they face and how we can ensure the investment and finance for them so that they will grow, expand and become the big corporations of tomorrow?
There is also the skills agenda. Training opportunities can be difficult, as many of these businesses are small or micro businesses that find it challenging to train staff and to get the skills they need. What can the Government do to support them?
There is also a need for general advice, for not just financial but succession planning. Quite often, family businesses feel they are operating in isolation. That is why organisations such as the Institute for Family Business are so important, because they help with that sort of advice, but many businesses do not get it. I wonder whether the Government could do more to help.
There is also the issue of profile. Leaders in the community, as I have already said, often come from family businesses. Some, though not many, have a national presence. Sadly, trust in business is at a low ebb right now, but family businesses often have a far better reputation. It may be that the Government should be seeking to exploit that in a positive way. We need businesses to succeed. We should celebrate their successes. I think people often feel more comfortable celebrating the success of a family business than the success of what they perceive as a faceless corporation. Maybe the Government need to associate business more with the family side of things, demonstrating the importance and the vital contribution family businesses make to our society, as well as to our economy.
In society, families really do matter. In business, family businesses are absolutely vital. Let us celebrate their success, but let us help them more than we do to ensure that they continue to be the backbone of our country and central to our communities.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Robertson.
As a Scot myself, let me say that it is a pleasure to hear a canny Scot—John Stevenson—taking us through this important subject; I always think a gentleman from Aberdeen would have a particularly good grasp on the vital need to make ends meet and run a tight ship.
I ran my family business for eight years, and my brother runs it now. It was a cheesemaking business that grew out of small dairy farm on the shores of the north Firth. For eight years, I had to juggle the profit and loss account and know how to do a VAT return—I had to do all that stuff, and it was invaluable experience. I will not go any further, because I cannot plug a family business too hard, but my brother continues in the same vein and I am very proud of him.
Let me expand on the points made by the hon. Member for Carlisle. The local contribution of family businesses is crucial. They tend to use the local bank: businesses in my constituency deposit large amounts of money in the local branch and help keep it open. They mostly use a local solicitor, and that equates to jobs in the local area. They use a local estate agent if the need arises, and local shops. They rely on their reputation, as the hon. Gentleman hinted at; local businesses do not want to make a mess of things locally, because it is on their own doorstep. Those are the key things they bring to their areas.
No local business will survive if it cannot balance the books and get it to work. That expertise, as the hon. Gentleman said, makes a huge local contribution, in terms of the chamber of commerce, local government and so on. As a passing aside—this is as much about my party as any other party in this place—we could do with more local businessmen in the House of Commons. If we go back 100 years, there was a time when many Members of the House of Commons had made their fortune and knew what they were talking about when it came to the big issues. That would be no bad thing. But that criticism is not directed at any one party; it includes mine.
John Stevenson: The hon. Gentleman makes a really interesting point about getting people with business experience here. Does he agree that, although traditionally important local businesspeople became members of the council, we do not see that today, and that is a big loss to us all?
That is a very apt point. I was elected to Ross and Cromarty District Council in 1986, which was a long time ago, and I have seen the sort of people who become members change dramatically in my lifetime. When it comes to local government finance, to have hard heads on the finance committee does not half help things.
Nurturing local businesses sits within a wider framework, which the hon. Gentleman touched on. He mentioned advice and access to finance as and when needed. Many of us feel that the day of the local bank manager has gone—the man or woman who could talk to the businessman and say, “Okay, that is a good idea. I’m willing to offer the following finance.”
In my part of the UK—my very far north constituency—a local business will do well and thrive if it has the support to which I alluded. We have an organisation called Highlands and Islands Enterprise, which was conceived by the Wilson Government in the 1960s, and did much good work over the years. I am sad to say that it is not what it was all those years ago. It is weaker, through no fault of its own; it is a small organisation and does not have the ability to offer advice and target finance as and when necessary. A lot of other infrastructure is required in our constituencies—in my own case, an airport, rail links and road links. A hardy perennial is the NHS, and I often raise the issue of maternity services. If any one of those vital key support networks is not up to standard, that sadly makes life harder for local businesses, particularly when it comes to recruitment or expansion.
I will close with an example. In Caithness we have an engineering firm called JGC Engineering, which is owned by the Campbell family. It is a third-generation firm that grew out of a blacksmith business, and it makes clever stainless steel stuff for the nuclear industry, Dounreay and others. As right hon. and hon. Members know, I have often talked about the potential of a space launch coming to my constituency—and I think it is just around the corner. A company such as JGC Engineering can use that but, if it does not have the infrastructure links, the back-up and so on, it will be harder for the company when the big day comes and it can go for those contracts. It is a basic point, and I make no apology for emphasising it again and again.
It remains only for me to wish all right hon. and hon. Members the compliments of the season, a very happy Christmas and a prosperous—in the business sense—new year.
It is a pleasure to see you in the Chair, Mr Robertson. I thank my hon. Friend John Stevenson for bringing forward this important and beautifully timed debate. If Christmas is about anything, it is family. Moreover, business is important in this place; it is absolutely right to have a debate on family businesses on our last day of term. I thank hon. Members for sharing their fine examples of businesses in their constituencies; we are all very proud of those businesses. It is hugely important that we support them.
There were many fantastic points made in this debate. Most of all, hon. Members stressed the importance of family businesses to their communities. Their contribution is fundamental. It is not just about employing local people; they can contribute to local charities, sponsor local football teams, or indeed sit on councils. My hon. Friend the Member for Carlisle made that important point. Easingwold is still part of my constituency, though it will not be after the boundary changes, which is quite annoying. There used to be the old Easingwold Rural District Council. Around the walls of the council chamber were black-and-white photographs of all the former council leaders. They were all local business people that I knew really well. They were important, and so proud of the town and their contribution to it. Now that our model for local authorities has changed, maybe that connection between businesses and their communities is not as strong as it was; that was a point made by my hon. Friend.
My right hon. Friend Wendy Morton said that local businesses’ contribution to their communities cannot be overestimated. I am very proud to be somebody who might be described as having a family business. We started our business back in 1992; I was in partnership not with a family member, but with a very good friend, John Waterhouse, but over the years, we gathered family into our business. It did not start off as a family business, but it became one. The point about the proportion of women contributing to family businesses being greater than the proportion of women in business in general is interesting; my sister took over as chief executive of our business in 2015, just before we listed it, and I have to say that she did a far better job of running it than I did. It very much became a family business.
I am very proud to have this role. I am from business and for business, and am proud to have an opportunity to play an important part shaping how we look after all businesses in future, not least family businesses. My hon. Friend Kevin Foster made a point about support for staff. In the pandemic crisis, lots of business people cut their wages to make sure that they did not have to cut staff from their businesses. We did the same. I always used to say to people when they were starting a business, “You work twice the hours for half the money, if you run a business. That is what you have to be prepared for. You do that for a lot of years.” The commitment cannot be overestimated.
Jamie Stone made another point that really resonated with me, about local reputation, which is fundamental. A family business operates and does the right thing because its reputation is on the line every single day, whether that is through the service provided to the customers or the way employees are treated. Those elements are vital to local reputation and are hugely important.
Of course, the family business community is very disparate, and its representation here is really important. I also commend the Institute for Family Business—I think we have some representation in the Public Gallery today—for its work. It is so important to highlight the benefits of family businesses and their contribution. I was proud to speak at the Family Business Week event, as did the shadow Minister. It was a fantastic event. There were so many people there, and a huge range of businesses, from construction to hospitality. It highlighted that 88% of UK businesses are family businesses, which employ 14 million people; and that 50% of mid-size businesses are family businesses, which shows both their contribution and the opportunity ahead.
I want to touch on what we are doing to support all businesses through a difficult period—there is no doubt that we will go through a difficult period—and I will come to some things we can do better in the future, to improve the prospects for family businesses. Clearly, it has been a difficult time for business generally, with the EU transition, the covid pandemic and now a supply-chain crisis and an energy crisis. It is important to recognise that these are global issues that we are trying to mitigate—they are not principally domestic—but they are clearly leading to recession, due to the need to put up interest rates to try to control inflation. It is therefore absolutely right that the Government should step in to try to mitigate some of the pressures, with measures such as the energy bill relief scheme, which is hugely important for businesses and is saving them a significant amount of money. That is a very expensive package; about £25 billion of taxpayers’ money is going into the scheme to try to mitigate the effects of the extra cost of energy for businesses.
The EBRS 2—the extension to that scheme—will be announced shortly. We are keen to make sure that we get all these good, viable businesses through this tricky time, until energy prices become more moderate. The one positive thing I can say about the difficult time ahead is that our business went through three recessions, and we came out stronger on the other side each time. Good businesses get through it and come out stronger, and the best years come after difficult years. Hopefully there is some optimism for the future, as well as a recognition of the challenges we face.
The Government announced a cut to fuel duty, and employment allowance has increased, reducing national insurance by up to £5,000 for small and medium-sized enterprises. There is also the £13.6 billion of business rate relief for businesses. I do not want to argue with the shadow Minister, as it is nearly Christmas, but I keep hearing that the Opposition are going to scrap or reform business rates—I am not sure which it is. To talk about getting rid of £22 billion without talking about what they will replace it with is not right and will create more uncertainty for businesses. It would be better to set out exactly how that money will be replaced. Perhaps we can deal with that issue in the new term next year.
The Government obviously reversed the decision to increase national insurance, which was helpful for most businesses and saved them about £4,200 a year. Importantly, at the Budget we announced the incentives to invest—the annual investment allowance. That is £1 million annually of full expensing against a business’s profitability. That is an important investment concession, and the Government are absolutely right to give that long-term certainty to businesses. That is an important new step, and that £1 million is permanent. That gives businesses the confidence that they can invest, knowing that it will be tax efficient.
My hon. Friend the Member for Carlisle and the shadow Minister talked about succession—passing on businesses to the next generation. Business property relief is a really important part of that. Not everybody understands exactly what it does, but it is an important tax concession that means that families can pass on their business to the next generation without paying inheritance tax. That hugely important tax incentive keeps family businesses together, and it is being done for exactly the right reasons.
The Government have exempted more businesses from regulations. Various business regulations have increased from a threshold of 50 or 250 employees to 500, which should lower regulations on many family businesses. We are trying to help family businesses, as well as many other businesses, transition to net zero. We have zero-rated energy on energy-saving products, which is really important. The Help to Grow: Management scheme improves management skills for SMEs. The Government are subsidising 90% of the cost of that scheme, which is hugely important in improving our management skills. Of course, the £4.8 billion levelling up fund and the £2.6 billion shared prosperity fund try to improve the communities that family businesses make such a huge contribution towards.
To improve the prospects of family businesses, and all small and medium-sized businesses, the most import thing that we can do is support them by spending our hard-earned money there and use them rather than their larger competitors. Like others, I was delighted to attend small business Saturday. From early morning to late evening, I visited fantastic small businesses across my constituency. I just want to name-check Taylor’s of Pickering. Pickering is a small town in a beautiful part of North Yorkshire, and Les and Joan Taylor started the business in 1969. It is a greengrocer and fishmonger, and it is in its third generation now. Peter Taylor, who now runs it, gets up at 2 o’clock every morning to deliver his groceries—he is a wholesaler too—and smoke his fish. It is a fantastic business. Those kinds of business are the backbone of our communities. As Jim Shannon said, we are a nation of shopkeepers, and it is important that we go and shop in those businesses. I know that he does that on his high streets in Strangford.
We are doing a lot on finance, which a number of Members talked about. The hon. Member for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross and my right hon. Friend the Member for Aldridge-Brownhills talked about the demise of the local bank manager. In my community, Ron Taylor was our local bank manager and a very well-known figure. I think that has disappeared.
We are doing things to improve access to finance for SMEs and family businesses. The British Business Bank has given £12.2 billion through various different mechanisms to 96,000 businesses, and when it comes to new family businesses, over £1 billion is now being lent in start-up loans to about 100,000 businesses. However, there is an argument that we need to once again put in place patient capital for intergenerational businesses—some other countries do that better than we do. Certainly, in lots of the G7 nations, particularly Germany, regional mutual banks provide long-term finance for family businesses; that, I think, is why we see many more big intergenerational businesses in places such as Germany. That is something we need to look at and learn from, and in my role I am keen to explore the potential of that.
The UK has a very good story to tell in terms of business. We are first in the OECD for the numbers of start-ups per capita, but we are 13th in terms of scale-up, so we do not get as many businesses growing quickly in those early years. Again, that is something I very much want to focus on in my role. It is a huge opportunity, because we know that if we can solve that particular equation—that first and 13th equation—we can solve the productivity puzzle.
We are looking at many other things, including through our review of payment and cash flow, which is another source of finance. We are very keen to scrutinise current practices and develop best practice in that area, to make sure we have good advice and mentoring services. There are 38 growth hubs around the country. We are keen to improve people’s growth hubs, and to hear stories from hon. Members across the House about the quality of their local growth hubs, to make sure that they are as good as they can be. We invest heavily in them. They are there to provide advice on access to finance and mentoring, and we want to make sure that they are delivering good outcomes for our local SMEs. We also want to improve procurement by bringing more SMEs and family businesses into public sector procurement. The Procurement Bill is going through Parliament at the moment, but there are lots of other lessons we can learn.
I will conclude now, to give my hon. Friend the Member for Carlisle a couple of minutes in which to sum up. As I say, it is a great privilege for me to be able to speak in this debate. All hon. Members across the House come to this place to make a difference, and this debate has been a great opportunity for me to be able to give something back to my community—the business community that has been transformational for my life. Thank you for that opportunity, Mr Robertson, and I conclude by wishing all hon. Members a very merry Christmas and a happy new year.
I thank the Minister for his contribution. He is a very unusual Minister in Government terms, in that he is a round peg in a round hole.
I also thank all colleagues for their contributions. It has been very interesting to hear about the significant contribution that family businesses make not only to local economies but—and this is equally important—to local communities up and down the country. Some 85% of all businesses are family businesses, and if I were to give one challenge to the Government on growing the economy, it would be to recognise that it is absolutely vital that those family businesses grow, expand and become much bigger, such that they contribute not just locally but nationally. That is how we will grow our economy. There needs to be greater recognition of the importance of family businesses, and we need to ensure that they grow, expand and receive support.
Finally, I follow the Minister in wishing everybody a merry Christmas and a happy new year. I hope that 2023 will not be as exciting as 2022.