Motion made, and Question proposed, That the sitting be now adjourned.—(Stephen Crabb.)
Good morning, Mr Turner. It is an honour and a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship. It is also an honour to have secured today’s debate. I am grateful to Mr Speaker for selecting the subject, because I think it will provide an important opportunity for hon. Members to discuss matters that are critical to our economy and growth agenda. I take the opportunity to congratulate the Under-Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills, the hon. Member for North Norfolk (Norman Lamb), on his recent promotion. It is good to see him here, and we look forward to hearing from him and the shadow Minister. I want to express my gratitude to colleagues and friends for turning up at the debate today. There is huge enthusiasm and energy for the subject, and I am sure there will be some stimulating contributions.
I declare an interest up front. I am a member of the all-party group on China, and I will explain why that is relevant. In December, I was fortunate to go to China for the first time on the all-party group’s visit to Beijing, Shanghai and Chengdu. It would have been difficult not to be impressed by the incredible growth in that country. I was told that 45 airports had been built in the past five years. The subway system in Shanghai, which is bigger than London’s entire tube network, was built in 15 years. In the UK, we would just about have got round to having a conversation about the possibility in that time. There has been real growth. We also went to Chengdu, which I confess I had never heard of before the trip. It is a small, second-tier town with a population of a cool 14 million and staggering growth of 63% over the past three years.
Capitalism is very much alive in China, as is growth to boot. During the week of my visit my world view changed completely, and I came back with enthusiasm for the subject of this debate. That underlines the fact that now is the time for UK plc to go east—just as China is taking forward its “go west” strategy—to try to unlock the opportunities in the vast interior as it becomes exposed to wider economic development.
In terms of context, Britain has a rich history in international trade. It has often been led by daring entrepreneurs looking for new markets, but during the last half of the 20th century, British traders somehow lost their enthusiasm, their sense of adventure and their pioneering spirit for searching out new opportunities. The irony is that that was at a time when the world economy was becoming more of a global economy. Successive Governments and businesses started to look for safe options in Europe and north America, and that must change.
As far back as 1961, parliamentarians were expressing concern about those trends. In a debate, the Earl of Bessborough said—this may sound familiar to hon. Members:
“We live on an island, and the concept of exporting does not come easily to the people as a whole; nor does the man in the street recognise that we live or die by our international trade. To overcome this it has seemed to many of us that there must be support for a national crusade to excite the spirit, to revivify and stimulate every facet—I repeat, every facet—of the export drive.”—[Official Report, House of Lords, 22 March 1961; Vol. 229, c. 1155.]
They don’t make ’em like that any more. I love the word “revivify,” but unfortunately all that sounds a bit too familiar.
Not so long ago, we could boast a truly diverse international trade base. In 1910, our exports to India and China took up 11% of our traded goods. Today, that is 4%. Our challenge is to drive up much-needed exports, and to rediscover Britain’s trading talent.
I am sorry to intervene so early. I speak as someone who owned a manufacturing company that won two Queen’s Awards for Export in the 1990s, and which exported to 49 countries around the world. Does my hon. Friend agree that part of the problem for small and medium-sized enterprises is the equity gap between what the banks will lend—usually up to £100,000—and what venture capitalists will lend—over £5 million? The in-between gap is the problem.
My hon. Friend is right. There is an equity gap, and I will talk about SMEs, which are the main thrust of my speech. From his experience, he knows more about the problem than I do, and I welcome his intervention.
There are some encouraging signs. We have seen a steady fall in our trade deficit from 4% of gross domestic product in 2007 to about 1% in early 2011, and that is beginning to help to rebalance the economy towards international trade. A recent article in The Economist reported that there are also signs of success in the motor industry. It was estimated that in 2011 the UK manufactured 1.5 million vehicles, and we exported three quarters of those. That is an important statistic, and I understand that Tata is considering expansion of its Land Rover factory at Halewood, and that Nissan will be looking to increase its production and capacity in Sunderland. It also exports to many countries around the world.
There is export success not only with motor vehicles and automobiles, but with life sciences. AstraZeneca manufactures many leading-edge pharmaceuticals, and we are seeing real success in Macclesfield where its major manufacturing plant accounts for 2.2% of the UK’s exports, which is a huge contribution. The Government’s life sciences strategy was announced in December, and sets out an approach by which we can obtain extra focus on the sector. One aim in the strategy is to create new partnerships in translational medicines and biopharmaceuticals between the UK and China so that those partnerships can enhance trade, investment, and research and development that will help us to have greater export success in that area.
Many hon. Members here can talk about, and will probably want to boast about, the export success of companies in their constituencies, but before they do, I want to take the opportunity to do the same. When I was preparing for this debate and when I spoke to more businesses in the Macclesfield area in north-east Cheshire, it became clear that there are some real export success stories. Plastic Card Services manufactures an innovative, biodegradable credit card, and is seeing huge success in Scandinavian markets. Its exports to foreign countries have risen from nothing to 25% in just a year. Over the past 10 years, Ukash, which is a provider of online payment services and has received the Queen’s Award for Enterprise for international trade, has increased its trade to 50 countries. It has a completely different international focus from many of the SMEs that, as a parliamentarian, I work with in Macclesfield.
Although there are success stories, it is important to come back to the challenge that has been alluded to. It is to improve our export performance across the piece, but particularly among SMEs, which is where the challenge is most marked. A short look at the statistics shows that in the UK, only one in five—25%—of SMEs export and are involved in international trade, compared with the European average, which is 25%, and in Germany it is above 30%. We must make a step change. As I said, the problem has existed for a while, but the size of the prize is huge. If we increased the penetration of exports by our SMEs up to the European average, we would wipe out the trade deficit in one fell swoop.
I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing the debate. He referred to China. Does he agree that with the weakness of the eurozone market at the moment, UK Trade and Investment should try to focus more resources on emerging markets, such as south America and south-east Asia, so that our businesses, particularly manufacturers, have greater access to the fast-growing markets of the world?
My hon. Friend makes an important point. The good news is that UKTI has in recent months started to focus more efforts on emerging markets. I cannot speak about South America, but I know that more resource in terms of headcount is being pushed into markets in China and India, which I will mention later. It is good to see the Government responding to that good point.
I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on securing the debate. In a recent statement, the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills said:
“Securing…long-term economic growth is the Government’s highest priority. Helping entrepreneurs export to new markets and get access to the finance they need are critical to making this a reality.”
Considering the Asian market is estimated to be worth about $42 trillion by 2030, does the hon. Gentleman agree that it is essential that small businesses get access to finance and that confidence is recreated in those small companies?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for that intervention. He raises a vital point—access to finance has come up again as a key dimension. The sad fact is, and I will mention this again later, that too many companies do not even want to export and are not aware of the opportunities, so there is a more fundamental problem. Hon. Members on both sides of the House have debated this problem for some time, but now is the time to get on and do something about it. We will talk about that and I am sure that the Minister will welcome further contributions from hon. Members.
How can we raise awareness and ambition, and the confidence that the hon. Member for Upper Bann (David Simpson) mentioned, to reap the rewards in eastern markets or, for that matter, South America? The Government and the business community—it is not just about the Government—can help SMEs to achieve their aims through three areas of focus: education, financing, which we have talked a bit about already, and, most importantly, access to new markets and customers.
On education, it is vital to get SMEs in touch with the best know-how on exports, and that will be one of the most important ways to help them to gain the confidence to want to export. UKTI has an important role to play, and its “passport to export” service gives a free capability assessment to businesses, which can help them to work out how they can be better prepared for the export work they want. However, I return to the point that only 20% of SMEs—one in five—are aware of the available services. It is a huge job just to make people aware that information is available.
One of the most important things that needs to happen is a lot more business-to-business mentoring to pass on experience from one company to another. I am pleased that the CBI’s pathfinder projects, which focus on mid-sized companies, are helping companies to build greater networks and opportunities. UKTI is building an export portal with Yell.com to connect first-time exporters with businesses that have experience in the area. I know, as I am sure other hon. Members do, that lots of local businesses want to pass on their experience to other businesses.
On Monday, I wrote an incredibly well-read article in The Daily Telegraph, which I am sure all Members have read several times over.
I have had great feedback from at least one constituent, but it was a good response and it is the quality, not the quantity that counts. A gentleman from Fibrevision, which creates dynamic measurement tools for textile yarns across many countries, particularly developing countries, got in touch with me to say that he would be retiring soon and wanted to spend time passing on his experience to others in the community, and I am going to tap into that. With Lord Green’s work, there are lots of opportunities now to hold export seminars in our constituencies, and I hope that many Members here will participate in such events. It is important to welcome the energy that Lord Green has brought to the task. He is doing a fantastic job as Minister for Trade and Investment, and has given a lot of focus to his task. He has been travelling tirelessly across the country to raise the profile of this work, and he deserves our support.
Transferring knowledge and educating people will go only so far; without the finance to back it, it will be much more difficult for British business to see the success that we want them to have. Let me cite a different example to show what they are up against—or perhaps where we could start heading. In 2010, Germany’s export credit agency supported SMEs in the German market by facilitating €23.7 billion in exports. In the same year, only a small proportion of the £2.9 billion of business that UK Export Finance underwrote went to SMEs. Furthermore, the CBI survey shows that SMEs and other businesses are simply not aware of the available finance. To address the situation, UK Export Finance will now send trade finance experts into UKTI’s regional facilities and the regional network to bring the expertise closer to business, which is good to see. No doubt, the Minister will want to respond to the concerns raised by hon. Members about finance, but it comes back to awareness and building confidence. It is not only about money being available.
It is good to see that the Government are also building bridges to bring the east to Britain. The Chancellor of the Exchequer’s recent announcement of greater co-operation between financial centres in London and Hong Kong will help the City to become a hub for the Chinese renminbi currency market. It will also give SMEs an advantage over the competition, because they will be able to forge stronger links with the new market on their doorstep and get a step closer to customers in China.
In filling the gap in export finance, we should look not only at what is happening with the Government, but at what the banks should do, because it is clear that they, along with professional advisers, have a vital role in encouraging confidence and building momentum in exports and international trade. A poll of small manufacturing businesses found that 51%—just over half—believed that banks were not helping to support their export ambitions. We see that lack of confidence in other areas, but no doubt confidence in banks on this issue needs to be improved. As the Federation for Small Business has highlighted, banks need to promote better, more tailored products to help SMEs in their export ambitions.
I also welcome the Government’s allocation of £45 million to promote exports in other markets. As I said earlier, it is important to get front-line staff working in the new export markets, because what has to happen after education and finance, is that we must roll out the red carpet for our SMEs—make them feel welcome in such markets and to have worthwhile trade visits, particularly in their first forays into foreign markets. Although large companies are well equipped to take on this task, it is pretty clear that smaller businesses lack the know-how, contacts and network to see success in these endeavours, and we must support them.
For too long, UKTI and other Government bodies have spent too much time doing desk-based research, instead of getting out, knocking on doors, finding opportunities and bringing packaged solutions to big infrastructure problems or other projects in those markets. It is great to see the Government working in that area.
I feel like I am in an exports master class, so I am enjoying everything that the hon. Gentleman says. I agree with him about the need for UKTI to get out from behind their desks and knock on some doors, but does he agree that the balance of UKTI’s recent work has been very much towards bringing in inward investment, perhaps at the expense of exporting and encouraging outward investment?
I thank the hon. Lady for her intervention. She makes a very important point. Of course we need inward investment. We have seen success in that area and we need to continue to see success, but now, the focus needs to be on exports and driving success in that area. I know that she has made important contributions in debates on the subject.
On my visit to China, it was good to see people realising the importance of exports. We met the British consuls from Shanghai and from Chongqing. They are getting out and starting to knock on doors. There has been too much focus on research and, for that matter, paid-for research. I am much more interested—I think that others would agree with me—in knocking on doors. Any of us who have been involved with business know that it is about building relationships. People do business with people, not with pieces of paper.
I thank my hon. Friend for his intervention. That point is vital. It is true for many areas of Government interaction with businesses, but it is particularly true for the area that we are discussing today. There is a huge and staggering opportunity. I think that it has been calculated as being worth $43 trillion. Whatever the number is, it is pretty big. We have to redouble our efforts in that respect. We are certainly putting the headcount on the ground. There are 50 more people in China and 30 more in India, but my hon. Friend makes a good point about the balance of expertise there. Perhaps the Minister will also reply to that, because many of us who have had experience in the business world would suggest that it is time to get people with that experience involved.
Understanding the local cultures is also important. I have not spent a huge amount of time in China, but there are many Chinese-speaking individuals in the UK with business experience. My hon. Friend the Member for Bedford (Richard Fuller), for example, has spent a lot of time in Asia. That is the type of experience that we need to bring to bear to help us in this export drive.
I congratulate my hon. Friend on obtaining the debate. There is something that I do not think we understand and that certainly Government have never used to maximum effect. There are 220 languages spoken by British people in this country. We constantly talk about the language issue, but we have people who may be the first, second or third generation from certain parts of the world and we do not use them effectively as the right cultural interface, the right linguistic interface or, more importantly, as the people who are respected by business people in those countries, as opposed to the people who do not speak those languages being sent out as heads of trade missions.
That is a vital point. I met a friend of mine who is a Chinese speaker and has an MBA. I do not think that she really understood the power that she has at the moment in helping to foster export opportunities and to build relationships. My hon. Friend makes an excellent point. I have to say that, as I think about this issue more and more, I increasingly wonder why our children are learning French at school. [Interruption.] This is not meant to be an opportunity to bash—[Interruption.] I think that the debate should be called to order, Mr Turner.
I can assure my hon. Friend that I have read his article in The Daily Telegraph, as has at least one of my constituents, so that is half a dozen of us in Cheshire. The question that interests me and that I would like to ask him is this. We talk about France and Italy. Both France and Italy export more per head worldwide and to the BRIC countries—Brazil, Russia, India and China—than we do, and they are doing that at a time when our exchange rate has depreciated by about one quarter and the Italian exchange rate has apparently been pegged to the euro and therefore is too high. Is there not an opportunity—the Minister might also wish to respond to this—for us to think as a country about what the Italians do in this regard that we do not?
It is an important point that we should learn from our international competitors and look at their success. We have been too complacent. We think that historical ties should automatically bring business to us. Well, I think that we are waking up to the fact that that is not the case any more—as we see—and we should not rely on those historical links. I think that we are too lazy. I can just about speak English and have a conversational understanding of Danish. As I was about to explain when I was so rudely interrupted by my hon. Friends, it is vital that more of our children learn Chinese at school. That has to happen.
I shall finish my speech shortly so that many of the hon. Members present can speak, because I know that they are enthusiastic to do so. We also need big businesses to want to include SMEs in their trade delegations. This is not only about what Government can do. Big businesses have to wake up and bring their supply chain in when they go on trade delegations to China or India. Helping to increase the international attitude of SMEs is vital.
Before the hon. Gentleman finishes, I want to draw his attention and that of other hon. Members to a specific issue. He has not mentioned the UK’s largest manufacturing sector—food and non-alcoholic drinks. It should be put on the record that, during the past six years, exports have grown year on year, that, in 2011, the figure for those exports hit £11 billion and that many SMEs are involved in that sector.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for bringing that to our attention. It is an important area. I can say with confidence that if my hon. Friend the Member for Penrith and The Border (Rory Stewart) is called to speak, he will be raising awareness of it as well, but I thank the hon. Gentleman for calling attention to it in the debate.
I know that there are huge and major trade initiatives that the Minister and Lord Green will be involved with in the year ahead and that will take up a huge amount of ministerial time. I am thinking of the India-EU trade summit, Russia’s World Trade Organisation accession and the Doha development agenda. All those things are very important. I trust that, in dealing with those issues, Ministers and officials will continue to focus on, and will give just as much focus to, the needs of SMEs. As today’s interventions show, that is a huge priority.
I believe that, in the end, Britain’s SMEs must go east, so that selling in Chengdu and Chennai is just as natural as selling in Cheshire. However, that cultural change will not happen overnight. The Government and the private sector must continue to build on the foundations that have been laid, so that SMEs make the full contribution that we believe they can make to our country’s growth agenda.
It is a pleasure to speak under your chairmanship, Mr Turner. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Macclesfield (David Rutley) on securing this vital debate. I also congratulate and welcome to his post the Minister. He may be interested to know that yesterday, by coincidence, I received an e-mail out of the blue from a very old girlfriend who happens to live in his constituency. Having finally realised after 18 months that I was an MP, her first words were, “We have the lovely Norman Lamb.”
I am conscious of the time and the need for other hon. Members to speak, so I shall just highlight a few points. The recent euro debate focused on the fact—many people thought that this was a reason to tread very cautiously with Europe—that more than 40% of our trade is with the eurozone. My argument is that that trade is something to be respected, nurtured, looked after and, of course, developed if possible, but the reality is that no one would try to run a business with an over-dependence on one business partner for 40% of their trade. Therefore, it is vital that we look elsewhere.
I noted the comments of my hon. Friend the Member for Macclesfield about history. I do believe that we have relied on history, but I feel that we have failed to capitalise on a number of unique opportunities that reach far outside the eurozone and not just to the east. There are many countries that are growth economies where Britain is uniquely positioned to capitalise on its relationships, whether through historical links, the extensive diaspora that we have in this country from those countries or current strategic and political links. We need an analysis of where those factors merge with prevailing growth economies and economies that are deemed to grow in the future. We should take a snapshot of how we are doing and then realise the potential of what we can do.
Let me share one or two examples based on information from the Library. Britain is one of the few EU states arguing for active support for Turkey’s membership of the EU. However, the fact remains that the UK’s share of overall exports to Turkey is 1.2%, compared with Italy at 2.4%, France at 1.6% and Spain at 1.9%. If we start to analyse where we have links that go beyond just trade, we can capitalise on that for the benefit of trade. In a Commonwealth country such as India, it is surprising to note that we are being outperformed by the USA—that is perhaps not so surprising—and Argentina, with Germany and France close behind, according to House of Commons statistics.
I have more examples, but the trend I am trying to highlight is that we are now forced to look outside Europe. There is a wealth of opportunity not just in the east, but in the countries that fall within the criteria that I have mentioned. For example, on a recent trip as part of a delegation to Kuwait, I was intrigued to find out that more than 95% of the population is employed in the public sector. The country is about to embark on a large nationalisation programme—[Interruption.] Sorry, a privatisation programme—I stand corrected by the look on the face of the hon. Member for Hartlepool (Mr Wright), who clearly welcomed my mis-statement. However, the UK has unique experience and expertise. Kuwait is embarking on major power plant construction and massive infrastructure development, and our recent links with it should set us apart from many other countries, given that it wants to do business with us, shares a history with us and is open to our companies knocking on its door. That is a place we can look to go to.
How can we do that? The Government have a role to play, as do parliamentarians. What does business actually want from Government? Essentially, businesses faced with the prospect of exporting immediately face a number of barriers, and I experienced them myself. Those barriers will deter even many of the most hardened and determined individuals from reaching into export markets. Although I support the comments of UKTI, we need to be candid and to recognise, as the CBI said in “Winning overseas” in November 2011, that businesses see UKTI as having the Marmite effect: for some, it has been absolutely marvellous, but for many others it has not fulfilled its role or managed to match businesses’ needs with the services provided by the Government. However, that is something that we can improve and build on, and I refer Members to the CBI’s document, which I found extremely constructive and helpful.
From the Government, we are now seeing a commitment to leading trade delegations and opening doors in regions that have been ignored, and the Gulf countries are a good example. However, we cannot do these things through just one visit; we have to maintain a consistent, permanent and ongoing relationship, and I welcome Lord Green’s work, as it is a major start. With all due respect, however, there is a wealth of talent across the Lords and the Commons that should be put to use in helping consistently to develop regions at a lower level. That should be done in a way that carries with it the respect and authority not only of the individual’s heritage, but of the country that is opening its doors to them, as it sees them conscientiously rebuilding relationships.
Let us be candid: when we get to these other countries, we will need to break down the barriers to exports. We as politicians can reduce some of those barriers, such as customs and complicated legislation, in ways others cannot; we can fight our corner and support British companies. We also need to bring in contacts. I would be proud to say that I am a salesman for Britain and that I am opening doors by using the levers at our disposal, as that will allow us to have influence and to bring delegations along, whether from prime contractors or from SMEs riding on the back of prime contractors. We can show companies what they can achieve and give them the contacts.
However, more needs to be done. I welcome Lord Green’s initiative, and our job, in our country and in our constituencies, is to start emphasising the opportunities to export, while explaining how we can offer practical help. I do not want to be the same business man I was 20 years ago. When I first started, I wanted to export to Switzerland, although I will not bore Members with the details. I rang the embassy for advice, and the first thing I was told was, “The markets here are very good for ball bearings.” That still sticks with me as the most useless piece of information that I received, because I could have found it out during my geography O-level all those long years ago. I want to feel that the Government can put in place people who have worked in business and who can actually help businesses to reach out, break down barriers, make contacts and sell. That, crudely, is what it comes down to, and that is how we can help.
I hope the Minister will take on board the fact that the Government are setting the right direction and starting to break down doors, but let us do that consistently and permanently. Relationships are not born out of one visit, but out of a commitment to a region over a period of time. We need patience, and we need to use it to help businesses to meet the cultural and business demands of a variety of regions and to take on markets where we are being beaten, when we should actually be streets ahead.
I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Macclesfield (David Rutley) for securing this extremely important and prescient debate. In many ways, we will have a challenging time over the next 10 years generating growth domestically in the UK and across the eurozone. Our international trade and inward investment—the responsibility of UKTI—will be crucial in ensuring that we keep ahead of the game and deliver growth for the UK.
My experience is pretty varied. In many ways, I was a very small exporter. I have worked for the Peruvian Government and the Georgian Government, and I had an office in Istanbul. I also did quite a lot of work in Africa and central Asia. I have therefore seen a lot of these issues from the UK, the intrepid traveller and the travelling salesman perspective, arriving in a country and not necessarily knowing who the key players were or how to make things happen.
If we are to support the system, there are probably three big challenges that need to be met by the Government, as well as by large exporters, as my hon. Friend the Member for Enfield North (Nick de Bois) rightly said. One is getting more SMEs to think about exporting. The initiative developed by Lord Green and my hon. Friend the Member for Stourbridge (Margot James), which sees us, as constituency MPs, generating interest in exports, is crucial.
There is, however, something interesting about how we look at exporting, particularly in relation to SMEs. Everybody I speak to says they are going to do an export mission and to take people out to country X, Y or Z. Very few people say that the most important thing for an SME is not going abroad, but having the first sale abroad or the first inquiry from somebody who is quite interested in their product. The internet is a big platform for that. I spoke to UKTI on Monday, and I was a little concerned that it was not looking at helping SMEs to translate one or two of their webpages into two or three different languages. That is very simple; people do not need to get on a plane or to do market testing. SMEs could also put their price list into euros and include export duties for three or four different markets that might be useful for their product. We can do a lot without getting the SMEs to take that leap of faith—to jump on that plane or pay UKTI to organise an event.
The other issue with it, which people, and particularly Government, do not understand about small businesses, is that time is money. If I have to spend three or four days in a market where I do not know anybody and I do not know whether it will be successful and I have three or four customers back in the UK or in Ireland, where will I put my focus? Let us start helping these smaller companies market-test. The internet is a good way. There are brochures and there are different ways of us doing this, but let us not always think that we have to send people out for those initial stages.
My hon. Friend is making a powerful point, but we do have to send people out to these developing countries at certain times. If we are going to capitalise on the BRIC countries and some of the other developing markets that people have talked about, must we not improve our aviation links? If we do not, there is a danger that we will lose out to central Europe on this.
My hon. Friend has a good point. Of course one has to encourage people to go abroad. One also has to encourage them to understand how these countries work in terms of culture and not just language. Experience in these countries is crucial. My hon. Friend’s point about aviation is well made and has been made particularly in relation to China, where we do not have those links and where we have to go to Europe to access some of those growing markets.
The second point I want to make is about the cultural side. I cannot emphasise it enough: there are 220 languages already spoken in this country. People already have these links. In this country, there are small and medium-sized companies that are run by people who have cousins, relatives, uncles and aunts who have equivalent companies in the countries of their origin. We are not using that. We are trying to expend a lot of money teaching a lot of fantastically able Foreign Office officials lots of different languages, but we already have the languages in this country and we have the business communications. Having been in small business myself, I know that small businesses have a similar language around the world. I would possibly find it easier to talk to a small business in China than a scientist in England. We understand each other; we have the same rhythm. Please, let us use the assets that we have.
The third point, which in many ways has been covered by my hon. Friend the Member for Enfield North, but which is also crucial, is: are we incentivising large exporters to bring their supply chain with them? That is not just on trips, but as part of the overall offering. In many ways, it is a little bit of a waste of our resources when we have big trade missions and we take Rolls-Royce and BAE Systems and all these fantastic companies. They can afford the air fare. They already have operations based in these countries. If they led a trade mission that had their full supply chain and their full level of SMEs and medium-sized manufacturers, I can see why we would be doing it. We have, however, to start focusing on delivering, as the Germans do, in that middle market of entrepreneurs, giving them the confidence, ensuring that we are out there making the business contacts and securing the confidence that those SMEs need, because they are our best advert for recruiting new SMEs.
I welcome what the Government are doing. There is a new emphasis and a new impetus, but let us use the assets that we have and let us get out there and sell and know that selling is a grubby, but very important and worthy business. Sometimes Governments do not necessarily enjoy getting involved at that sharp end.
First, I welcome the Minister to his post. We look forward to what he has to say later. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Macclesfield (David Rutley) on securing an important debate. We do not talk about these issues enough in this House. It is vital to the future of our country that we get out and sell both manufactured goods and the services that we produce, because that is the only way that we will remain a first-class economy.
Poole, although it is a place with sandy beaches and is pleasant to live in, has a lot of industrial estates and a lot of small companies that are successful. It has a large number of people employed in manufacturing. When I go around, all the companies that are involved in exports seem to be very busy. If the trade figures have not turned yet, I am sure that at some point they will. All the evidence that I see on the ground is that the devaluation and the rebalancing is taking place and will eventually show results.
One of my biggest companies is Sunseeker, which employs nearly 2,000 people. It exports nearly all the yachts that it produces. There are not many people in this country who can afford a £20 million, £30 million or £40 million yacht. It is a great exporter. We have companies such as Siemens, which, although it came in for some criticism recently on the rail contract, is a great British company. It may be German-owned, but it has been in this country for a century and in terms of exports and investment is important to the UK. Siemens in Poole exports to China, the United States and all the way around the world. It produces a lot of the technology for the congestion zone and a lot of signalling technology and it is cutting edge. There is a whole array of businesses.
I want to pick up on a few concerns. There is an equity gap. There are some small successful companies that want to grow and they face a dilemma: they either have to sell, or, if they do not sell and remain owned by their existing directors, they cannot raise the equity or the loans from banks to be able to expand. I have come across a number of companies in Poole that say that they could double or treble their turnover—a lot of it by export—but they cannot raise sufficient funds from the banks. That is the main area where they are being held back. It is not that they cannot sell the products; it is that they cannot raise the capital. That is a big issue.
I welcome this debate. Does my hon. Friend agree that the business growth fund—not the regional growth fund—set up by the banks precisely to put equity into such businesses should look at companies that are slightly smaller than the current benchmark? There are plenty of businesses employing 30 or 40 people which could double their employment and vastly increase turnover if they had access to that particular fund, where the limit is currently set a little high.
My hon. Friend makes a good point. We still need to zero in on the small growing companies to see how we can help them with equity and loans.
The other thing is the supply chain. When one hears of a big export order that requires offset, that often means British suppliers down the line losing the ability to supply a big export order. What frustrates many small companies in my constituency is trying to get on the tender list of Rolls-Royce and British Aerospace. I went to see one company that was convinced it had the best product at the best price, but it could not get Rolls-Royce to buy its product. Rolls-Royce bought a German product and that same company beat the German company to supply the Germans with the same product. That was supplying the air tanker project in Germany. It was that frustration. We need a speed-dating process, so that small companies can marry up with British Aerospace and Rolls-Royce, which have been tremendously successful, to see whether we can supply some of these big companies, which are used to getting their supplies from all over the world when there are people in Poole, Macclesfield and, no doubt, Penrith who could produce the goods. There could be a degree of import substitution, simply because we marry up British skills and British companies. That needs to be considered.
The other area I want to touch on, which affects a lot of companies in Poole, where we have communications and quite a lot of military stuff, is the licensing regime for exports. I get a lot of moans from British companies when they have to go through the export licensing process. The difficulty is that it goes into Whitehall and weeks go by. It is difficult when someone is trying to promise the person they are supplying a delivery date for a product and they do not know what is going on. I think that the Government need to go back and look at this. Of course we must have proper safeguards and licences for some of the equipment that we export, but at the moment I am not sure that the system is helping those exporters.
Northey Technologies, a local company in Poole, was supplying the Chinese nuclear programme and had two export orders approved, but the third, for an identical product that they were selling, was held up for three or four months while the Government decided what assurances they needed. I repeat that the third order was identical to the first two, which were approved. Eventually, the Chinese went elsewhere.
The other day I visited AB engineering, another great local company in Poole, which produces robots for defusing bombs—one of two companies in the UK producing those. Of course, because of our experience in Northern Ireland we produce some good robots for doing that. That company exports all the way around the world. I said to the managing director, “You’ve asked me to visit your company. I’m impressed with what you do. Do you have a message for me to take back to the Government?” He said, “Yes, it’s the export licence regime. It’s frustrating. We find it difficult. We can’t find out what’s going on and there are occasions when sometimes we lose exports.”
My main message for the Minister is this: being new to his post, will he please go back and have a look at this area and see whether we can make it a little more efficient? Perhaps we could, at least, have a card system so that people can know when they will get a decision. The most frustrating thing is when people have an order for a good product but find that the Government are not getting on with the process of licensing it when it should be properly licensed. Anecdotally, people think that, since the Arab spring, the Foreign Office has got a lot more involved in exports, which has made things a lot worse.
We have some great British companies and some enterprising people. Going around the world, people will find some Scotsman on top of a mountain trying to sell British products. The reality is, though, that if we could do what we do well a little bit better, we could get better outcomes.
I will adhere to that, Mr Turner.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Macclesfield (David Rutley) on securing this important debate and my hon. Friend the Minister on his elevation; I am sure that he will make a brilliant Minister.
I think that the need for growth is driving every hon. Member in this Chamber. Growth is the engine that will get us out of the financial difficulties that we were left in when we came into coalition government. I attended a Federation of Small Businesses dinner last night at which our Chancellor was speaking. He talked about the importance of exports and the key role of small businesses in driving exports. Small businesses have a pivotal role to play in leading the recovery, because they are flexible and responsive to changing circumstances and to opportunities which can arise even in difficult times.
I am proud of this coalition Government’s approach to international trade. I am told that no Minister is allowed out of the country without a trade brief in his or her briefcase. It is important to recognise the value of emerging markets, not just our traditional European trading partners: in parts of Europe there are a lot of opportunities, but in other parts it is not so good. Colleagues have mentioned China, India and Brazil, which are important areas that we need to exploit.
UKTI provides a wide range of help and services to business. A number of colleagues have mentioned small business help and the need for more of it. On export credit guarantees, I would much prefer to see the help going to small companies rather than to some of our larger companies—perhaps those that are selling quite a number of arms at the moment. For example, why not extend the supplier credit finance facility to small businesses—the guarantee to a bank for a loan for sums larger than £25,000?
We could do more. The hon. Member for Macclesfield has already mentioned that we do not punch at our weight in respect of exports, compared with other European countries. There are things that we can do. Consider UKTI, for example. The hon. Gentleman talked about getting people out from behind their desks and knocking on the doors of local businesses. I berated the regional development agencies for being far too insular and expecting small business to come to them. The whole emphasis must change. We must be far more outward looking and inclusive.
I was particularly impressed by the hon. Member for South Thanet (Laura Sandys) talking about the internet. It is so obvious, but we do not often talk about that as a mechanism for encouraging and enabling exports, particularly for small businesses.
The hon. Member for Poole (Mr Syms) mentioned speed dating. Why not have business-to-business mentoring? I mean speed dating in the strictly business sense, of course. Perhaps I am just compounding my error. I will change the subject quickly. We can do a lot of things. Our local enterprise partnerships can help as well, as can the chambers of commerce.
Manufacturing is playing and will continue to play a key role in exports and in attracting inward investment, because we have all the tools and abilities in this country. The coalition Government are seeking to rebalance the economy. The west midlands, which is my area, is excellent at high-end, advanced manufacturing. Sadly, manufacturing shrank under the previous Labour Government from 20% to 12% of our gross domestic product. That is shameful.
We have major export opportunities. The hon. Member for Macclesfield mentioned Jaguar Land Rover. Automotive is our No. 1 manufacturing export. Jaguar Land Rover has already expanded its Solihull plant and the i54 plant and it is taking on 1,000 people. There are a great number of things that we can do. We have aerospace, chemicals, agri-food and energy, so it is up to us to have a multifaceted approach to ensure that all of us—Members of Parliament and every facet of Government, as well as employers’ bodies—work together to increase that emphasis and ensure that small businesses, particularly, get their fair share of the pie.
I had hoped to be called earlier, Mr Turner, by currying favour with you on the basis that I was at college with you some 35 years ago, but I was disappointed. However, I am delighted to be called now.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Macclesfield (David Rutley) on securing this interesting debate. I shall keep my comments to two points, because we are short of time.
On the export market generally, on the face of it, our performance is not as bad as it appears. For example, our exports as a percentage of GDP, if invisibles are included, are much the same as France’s and Germany’s. The 2010 figures, according to the Library, show us at 29% of GDP, Italy at 27% and France at 25%. However, those figures are just the surface, beneath which we have a culture in this country, developed over many years, which means that many young people do not even consider going into business, let alone the export sector. There have been other debates, both here and in other parts of the Palace of Westminster, about that culture, and I believe that part of the problem is cultural.
I am sure that if I were to go to the equivalent of a Watfordian sixth form in Germany and ask, “Who wants either to go into their family business or to start up a business?” the number of young people answering, “It’s business for me,” particularly with exports in mind, would be significantly higher than in Britain. Very few of our contemporaries at Oxford, Mr Turner, went into business, and I am sure that very few people nowadays even think about that. At university, people are pushed towards professions and careers such as ours—to which I am a recent recruit, in later life—which, good or bad, certainly do not benefit the economy or assist growth in the rest of the country in the same way as being in a business, particularly an export-led one, does. The issue is very much a cultural one.
One learns to take things as one finds them, and in my travels, both in my constituency and abroad, I have found UKTI to be of almost no help whatsoever to prospective exporters. I will give just one example, because time is limited. A few weeks ago I was asked to go to Mainz, a town in Germany that is twinned with Watford—obviously Watford in many ways is far superior to Mainz, or to anywhere else in the world, but for some reason it is twinned with it. I spoke there at an inward investment conference about investment in Hertfordshire. I was very embarrassed that the UKTI rep in Mainz—which is obviously not in the middle of Africa—did not even speak German. I found that absolutely appalling. When I questioned Lord Green, for example, at a recent Conservative China group breakfast, he could not even say what exports we make to China.
Whatever the Government say, there is no real hardcore business culture in this country as far as exports are concerned. Yes, everyone tries—politicians, the previous Government, this Government. The Foreign Secretary makes speeches saying that we are going to turn the Foreign Office into an organisation that supports business. It is nonsense. On recent visits to five African countries with the International Development Committee, I asked the ambassadors who the main importers into those countries from Britain were, and they did not know. Our ambassador to Burundi, which is a small country with a very small population, said that there was almost no British trade there, and so I had to tell him that one of my constituents, who is also a friend, exported products there. The culture exists in the minds of politicians and some other people, but the reality is very different. People do very well in business in this country without even considering exports. Exporting is not part of the culture. I accept the points that Members have made about the credit and equity gaps, and about financing. That is all well and good, but there is no burning desire to export. The view is it is very difficult, and hard to make money out of—it is just not in our psyche.
There are exceptions. My good friend and fellow Watfordian, Dr Rami Ranger, has a business called Sun Mark Ltd, which exports to 160 countries. Despite all the talk of our lack of efforts in the BRIC countries—Brazil, Russia, India and China—he has recently exported his Bullet energy drink to such countries as Venezuela, Honduras, Belize and Surinam. He is the Burundi man, the Rwanda man—he exports to 160 countries. He has not even heard of UKTI. He does not need to go to seminars held by Lord Green, or anything like that, because he is someone of Indian origin who thinks internationally and is used to driving for business and exports, despite the obstacles put in his way by the 50% tax, national insurance and everything else. He is loyal to this country. He could locate his company anywhere in the world but he has it in Britain, and we need a lot more of that kind of thing.
Our international development efforts are very commendable, and are supported by both sides of the House, but because of tied aid, which used to be something whereby arms were sold from countries that gave aid, there is a fear on the part of the Department for International Development of getting British companies involved in its activities, when there are perfectly benign contracts all over the world for cars, agricultural products and so on—so many worthy things. I am sure that it is against European law to show favouritism to British companies, and it would not be the right thing to do, but there is no mechanism whereby our companies are informed, encouraged and invited to tender. Why do we buy 100 Toyota Land Cruisers in Africa, without even pushing British companies to bid?
Everywhere we go with the International Development Committee—other members of the Committee are here today—we see so much money being spent. I am not saying that we should have favouritism, but there is no real feeling that this is British taxpayers’ money, and we have to try to help British companies, providing the objective is right, that money is not spent where it should not be, and that it is not more expensive. These things have to link together, and that is what I ask the Minister to consider—it is what the Government should be doing. We are proud of our international development efforts, but they should be linked to trade in the nicest possible way.
I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Macclesfield (David Rutley) for securing this debate.
I want to touch briefly, in a very short time, on the ramping criticism of UKTI and the British Government. The point is, of course, that the situation of British exports is extremely complex. Germany is doing well not because the German diplomatic service is far better than the British one. In fact, the German diplomatic service is in many ways not half as well supported or prestigious within the German administrative system as the British one is. Nevertheless, there are some small things I believe we could do to improve our exports. We do not have a silver bullet. No consul-general in Istanbul will alone be able to double UK trade and investment with Turkey by 2015, but it is important to understand what we can and cannot do with this funny network of embassies.
We first must understand that the business of trade, at least regarding the embassies, is very long term. Britain’s calamitous failure in Brazil is not about a lack of short-term energy from individual British Governments, but about decades of lack of focus. The reason that countries even such as the Netherlands are well ahead of us in their trade with Brazil, and why Germany, France and Italy are doing better than us, goes all the way back to French investment in and support for the first universities in Brazil and German investment in its first industrial plants in the early 20th century. We have already heard about Italian success in Turkey, and that considerable success—Italy is a long way ahead of Britain in trade with Turkey—has been built up over decades, since the first Fiat investments in the 1960s, and it means that there are now 18 flights a day from Milan into Turkey, and an enormous range of small and medium-sized Italian businesses on the ground in a way that our businesses are not. If Britain is now to be serious about that kind of thing, we need to do three things. We need to look at unexpected countries, look at unexpected products, and change the culture of UKTI.
Regarding unexpected countries, a focus on BRIC countries might turn out to be a bit misguided in the long run, and in a sense we have missed the boat, I am afraid, with countries such as Brazil. However, one reason that we cannot become so centred on insulting the Foreign Office and demanding privatisation and a commercial focus is that often our diplomatic missions turn out, in the long run, to be very useful.
Take, for example, Mongolia. There was huge pressure 15 years ago to close our embassy in Mongolia, with people saying, “Why do we bother having an ambassador there? Who cares about Mongolia?” and then the country turned out to have an extraordinary range of assets—natural resources—which are about to make it the country with perhaps the largest gross domestic product per capita in that entire area of Asia. Our diplomatic network, therefore, is partly an investment in low-probability, high-impact events, exactly such as that one. The investment is, as some people have pointed out, less than our investment in the winter fuel allowance, and it pays off again and again through such unexpected opportunities. The same, if I were to be bold, could be extended to a whole series of peculiar countries. The Falkland Islands, if they continue to discover 500 million barrels of oil in the northern reaches, seem set to become a sort of Dubai with penguins.
Those are extraordinary opportunities for us, and we might take them even further. It is not just about second-tier countries such as Indonesia; we should even be looking at countries such as Pakistan. We tend to see Pakistan simply as a failed state, but it is a potential market, within the next generation, of 300 million people with an extraordinary focus on IT. Of course, we also have 1.5 million British people of Pakistani origin who can help us trade there.
Places such as Cumbria show us the astonishing range of unexpected products that we have. Innovia in Wigton, with 1,000 employees, exports 90% of its products. We have Steadmans, designing glittering gold roofs for the Bahrain air show. We have people making forges in Alston winning Queen’s export awards and people selling used photocopiers to China. We sell gluten-free food products into the Balkans.
Let me finish with sheep. The agricultural export market is massively untapped, and that is exactly where an embassy can be useful. The reason that our sheep are not in Saudi Arabia is not that New Zealand is outcompeting us but that we have been denied health certificates throughout the middle eastern market. It is an enormous market. The Arab appetite for sheep is almost unstoppable. Britain is just beginning to go into surplus. Our sheep industry employs 130,000 people. Agricultural exports should be a good example.
The key to all those opportunities in unexpected products and markets is the energy and culture in UKTI, in order to give people the drive and leadership to want to explore those opportunities. We in Britain should look back not at our Victorian past but at our Elizabethan past, when a buccaneering, trading, earring-wearing rogue state took its goods all the way around the world.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Turner. This debate is important, and I congratulate the hon. Member for Macclesfield (David Rutley). I have a lot of affection for Macclesfield. My big hero is Ian Curtis of the band Joy Division, who lived, died and is buried in Macclesfield. I also congratulate the Minister on his new position. I wish him well in his role. Given the turnover of Liberal Democrat Ministers, I am confident that he will be Secretary of State by Christmas.
Today’s debate has shown that there are huge opportunities for British export, but that we do not tap into our full potential. The world’s economy is expected to double in size by 2050. Much of this debate has focused on BRIC countries. There is some scope to expand our opportunities into BRIC countries, especially as China moves from an export-led production and manufacturing model towards internal domestic consumption, but I think that the second tier—the N11 or next 11 countries such as Indonesia, Turkey, South Korea, Nigeria and Vietnam—are exactly where we need to focus. I agree with the hon. Member for Penrith and The Border (Rory Stewart) that we have often missed the boat. We need to be at the forefront of trade with N11 countries.
The UK has world-class sectors. Our automotive sector, which has been mentioned, contributes about £40 billion of turnover, and 80% of its production is exported. The oil and gas sector, which is strong in my area, exports about £32 billion of goods, services and project management skills. Just this morning, I was at a breakfast meeting with ADS. The UK aerospace, defence and security sector exports about 70% of its output, or about £23 billion of products. The quality, reliability and innovation of those products are seen throughout the world, and we should be proud of them.
However, this is not just about traditional manufacturing sectors. The UK video games and interactive entertainment sector is worth £3 billion to the national economy at the moment, and global demand is expected to rise by about 10% year on year. We lead the world in that sector. “Batman: Arkham City”, produced by Rocksteady Studios in north London, sold 2 million copies in its first week of release. No CD or record—not even by Joy Division—has ever achieved that. We should be exploiting it as much as possible.
We have much to be proud of, but we cannot be complacent in this modern, competitive world. We cannot say that our exports have performed to their full potential in the post-war era. Given the intense competition of this arms race—I do not think that that is too strong a term, considering the issue’s importance and intensity—Britain needs to compete with optimum efficiency.
I agree with the CBI when it says:
“We are not alone in seeking growth through exports—other advanced economies are facing similar constraints and are looking to boost their export performance. We cannot spend another decade simply playing catch-up: we need to be bigger and bolder in our ambitions.”
The CBI concludes:
“We are not being ambitious enough with our choice of markets and our decline in goods exports is unsustainable if we want to lead an export-orientated economic recovery.”
It has been mentioned that the UK is far too dependent on traditional, slow-growing economies. Some two-thirds of all UK exports go to the US and the EU, but in the next decade, those markets will probably not grow at all. There has been much talk of balancing the economy. I hope that the House would agree that it is necessary to rebalance trade policy towards new and emerging companies.
I stress that exports and trade policy do not operate in a domestic or an international vacuum. We cannot consider exports and trade performance in isolation from the rest of Government policy. I urge the Government to implement an active, co-ordinated industrial strategy. I fear that we are a long way from that at the moment, but everything that the Government do must be considered in terms of its impact on our trade performance.
The Government’s economic policy is having an effect on business confidence and growth. The business confidence index published this week shows that confidence in negative territory. By all accounts, we are back in official recession. Turnover is depressed, there are no export growth areas and exports are not bouncing to take up the slack left by subdued domestic demand. I hope that the Government will address that.
The shadow Minister is discussing the present lack of industrial policy. In the decade between 2000 and 2010, we went from being the fifth biggest exporter in the world to being the 13th, way behind countries such as Italy. In his judgment, why did that happen?
That is a consequence of the world growing in different ways and a symptom of the long-term decline in our export performance. As I said, we need to make a concerted effort to do something about it. Many of the invisibles kept up well during that decade and levels stayed similar. However, the thrust of my argument is that we need to raise our game.
Every Minister—not just Business Ministers—and every aspect of Whitehall should be charged with promoting British exports, but all too often, policies are not joined up. The immigration cap indicates that Britain does not want to act as a beacon for the world’s best and brightest, and there is a perception among foreign businesses that it will act as a brake on export growth.
Aviation policy was mentioned. A recent report suggests that a lack of direct flights from the UK to emerging markets might be costing our economy £1.2 billion a year in lost trade. Firms naturally trade where there are good and co-ordinated transport links. In my area of the north-east, the Emirates service between Newcastle and Dubai has tripled trade between the two areas in the four years since it started. The hon. Member for Macclesfield mentioned Chengdu. There are no direct flights from the UK to Chengdu, but there should be. British Airways does not run a service from the UK to Seoul in South Korea, although I admit that other carriers do. The Government should work closely with airlines to address that.
I turn to last week’s disappointing announcement that the Indian Government might place an order for fighter jets with French manufacturer Dassault, rather than with Eurofighter Typhoon, in which the British BAE Systems plays a huge part. The Prime Minister paid a lot of political capital with regard to that. The Opposition do not want to do anything to compromise the deal. We will support the Government in ensuring that Britain can be successful, and we think that there is still considerable scope to succeed, but I hope that lessons are being learned within the Government. Frankly, as has been touched on in this debate, the Prime Minister jetting off for a one-off PR stunt is no substitute for deep and meaningful Government-to-Government relations.
The French are particularly adept at this, and President Sarkozy’s courting over many months of Prime Minister Singh seems to have reaped rewards. Will the Minister outline the steps that are being taken to ensure that the Eurofighter stays in the game? On a wider point, what will the Government do differently to ensure more meaningful and therefore more successful contact to secure trade for Britain?
On UK Trade & Investment, I do not want to focus on cuts, but the context is important. UKTI’s budget over the next four years has been cut by 17%. In contrast, Ubifrance’s budget saw an increase of 14.2% in 2011, while that of Germany Trade & Invest increased by 10%. The Minister, fresh with his red box, will no doubt spout the lines that tough choices need to be made and that austerity is required to clean up the mess that we left behind, but does he really believe that reductions to this country’s foreign trade organisation, at a time of acute global competitiveness and when our main competitors are increasing their budgets, are sensible and will not hurt Britain’s export drive?
In the time remaining to me, I want to touch briefly on one of the key barriers to trade, particularly for small and medium-sized enterprises, namely access to finance. Will the Minister update us on progress made on the actions outlined in the plan for growth, which was published almost a year ago? How many SMEs have been helped as part of the UKTI’s passport to export initiative? How many firms have taken advantage of the export enterprise finance guarantee? The plan for growth produced three new products designed to mitigate the risks for exporters and potential exporters. How many have taken that up?
Britain has a long history of trade across the globe over many centuries. I liked what the hon. Member for Penrith and The Border (Rory Stewart) said about the need to look not to our Victorian past, but to think further back to our buccaneering in Elizabethan times. We need to address the intense competition. I would hate to see our successors in 50 years’ time lamenting the failed and missed opportunities of the first half of the 21st century in relation to the expanding global economy. The Minister is fresh in office and could make his mark by ensuring a competitive and co-ordinated policy across the Government and with business, so that we can sell British goods and services across the world, thereby creating jobs and wealth for this country.
I thank hon. Members for their kind good wishes, including the encouraging words from my own constituent—it was a relief to hear them—quoted by the hon. Member for Enfield North (Nick de Bois). I congratulate the hon. Member for Macclesfield (David Rutley) on securing this important debate. He made some incredibly important points and focused in particular on the role of small and medium-sized enterprises. It is critical to address how we can get more SMEs exporting, and I will return to that point in a moment.
We have heard about a large number of success stories and we need to go out and argue the case for what is already happening among many companies in our constituencies. Many Members have also highlighted barriers that need to be challenged and tackled. The hon. Member for Watford (Richard Harrington) focused on cultural barriers. We have to encourage our youngsters to think about becoming entrepreneurs and exporters. That needs to be seen as a good thing to do. The hon. Member for Penrith and The Border (Rory Stewart) is correct that long-term investments need to be made to win new markets. We have strong cultural links with many countries. As the hon. Member for South Thanet (Laura Sandys) has said, 220 languages are spoken in this country and they link people to their countries of origin. We need to exploit those links to our advantage, and I think that they are there to be taken.
This debate is timely—tomorrow is the first anniversary of the trade and investment for growth White Paper. Published early in the Government’s tenure, the White Paper made clear the importance of rebalancing our economy. Growth over the past decade was based too much on debt and consumption, and we need to refocus on export. If we are to rebuild our economy, exports are critical, and I think that there is agreement throughout the House on that. My hon. Friend the Member for Solihull (Lorely Burt) made the essential point that the need to rebalance our economy, build sustainable growth and create jobs through international trade and investment must be a priority for us all.
We are a trading nation with a rich heritage to which many hon. Members have referred. We have looked outwards, but in recent years there has been a sense of complacency about our role in the world—it is almost as though we have had a sense of entitlement. We need to challenge that, be hungry and show the buccaneering spirit that has been mentioned. We need to position ourselves to take advantage of the new opportunities for growth, particularly in respect of the non-traditional trading partners. We need to work with renewed energy to ensure that all parts of our economy are working together to get the message across that Britain is open for business. The global economy is highly dynamic and very competitive. We need to be more energetic to win new business.
In response to the points that have been made, I want to focus on three key issues. First, how can we get more companies, especially SMEs, to export? Secondly, I want to outline some of what the Government are doing to help ease the flow of export credit to exporters. Finally, I want to say something about what the Government are doing to help more British companies into the fast-growing markets of the east and the south.
Many hon. Members have focused on the first priority. A vital part of increasing exports is to get more companies exporting. My colleague the Minister for Trade and Investment, Lord Green of Hurstpierpoint, has set out an ambitious programme for increasing the number of SMEs that export. As I think the hon. Member for Macclesfield has mentioned, only 20% to 23% currently export, compared with the European average of about 25%, and the figure is higher in Germany. We need to get an extra 100,000 SMEs exporting over the next four years to reach the European average. That is a bold, ambitious, but achievable goal, and one on which we must focus.
Achieving that increase in the number of exporters is not something that the Government, through UK Trade & Investment and UK Export Finance, can do alone. Last November, at the IMAX at Waterloo, the Prime Minister launched the national export challenge. This major partnering event brought together all those organisations and trusted advisers that can reach out to companies with messages about trade and exports.
The banks face a big challenge. They have the contacts with businesses, but a recent poll showed that many small manufacturers do not feel that they are getting the support that they need from their banks. Banks and other organisations need to reach into the business community that provides a direct route to the decision makers who really matter—the directors and managers who live day by day with decisions about how to maintain and build their competitiveness.
Lord Green is also overseeing changes to UKTI, about which there have been many comments. The changes are bringing in private sector expertise, which has been mentioned, to strengthen UKTI’s leadership, and outsourcing services to private sector deliverers. That, coupled with an extra £45 million secured by UKTI in the autumn statement, has set it on a course to double the number of companies that it helps from 25,000 to 50,000. Lord Green has also overseen the launch of new packages of export credit finance from UK Export Finance that now meet the specific financing needs of SMEs.
Companies that start to export show increases in productivity. They are exposed to new ideas and better use of resources. Their competitiveness and business sustainability also improve. UKTI and UK Export Finance can help those companies with advice and support, but the Government recognise that other partners and intermediaries have a crucial role to play.
Following on from November’s launch of the national export challenge, UKTI and UK Export Finance have held a series of seminars around the English regions. The most recent was in Yorkshire and Humberside on Monday this week. I encourage all Members—this point has been made; there is an enormous amount of expertise in and experience of business in the House—to get involved in such events and encourage businesses in their communities to think about the export opportunities that are available.
As Lord Green has said on many occasions, to reverse the decline in the UK’s trade balance is a marathon, not a sprint. We now have in place the ground work on which to build, including the active engagement of UKTI and UK Export Finance with support networks, and the targeted support of SMEs at trade fairs and on missions overseas.