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Business Growth

Volume 542: debated on Thursday 15 March 2012

18. What assessment he has made of the ability of other Departments to encourage business growth. (100039)

With your permission, Mr Speaker, and assuming that both Members are present, I will answer Questions 7 and 18 together.

All Departments are assessing how they can remove barriers to growth through the growth reviews. That has led to more than 300 actions being identified, and the Cabinet has met twice in the past month to ensure that delivery of these actions is on track.

The Minister and the Secretary of State might recall that over a number of months I have called for the headquarters of the Green investment bank to be located in Edinburgh, so it is only right that I record my welcome for the decision to do just that. The Minister’s Department might be supporting the green economy, but other Departments do not always seem to see its value in supporting growth. Will he have a word with the Chancellor to emphasise the importance of supporting the green economy, particularly in the light of some of his recent statements on the matter?

I am pleased that the hon. Gentleman is pleased that the headquarters of the Green investment bank will be located in Edinburgh, which is important so that we can get a genuine centre and cluster of green finance expertise, although there was a “but” at the end of his question. I can say to him that the entire Government are committed to ensuring that we develop renewables. Whether in relation to finance or technology, we are committed to making real progress, and in the past 12 months we have done precisely that.

The Public Accounts Committee has found that small and medium-sized defence contracts, such as those for new armoured vehicles, are being squeezed out by big-ticket items that are over budget, such as aircraft carriers. Will the Minister ensure that the Ministry of Defence backs prime contractors and supply chains, such as General Dynamics UK in south Wales, so that British business can deliver the best equipment and the jobs that we need?

Absolutely. Defence Ministers and I regularly discuss that. There is a clear White Paper and a strategy. The hon. Gentleman is right that we need to look at not only prime contractors, but the UK-based supply chain, on which we are making good progress, but we are alert to the danger that larger contracts can sometimes block out some of the smaller opportunities for indigenous UK businesses.

The Department currently administers 48 different business support schemes, many of which have further sub-schemes that run from them, all rightly aiming at supporting and assisting business, and other Departments also run such support schemes. Does the Minister accept that there could well be a need to rationalise some of those schemes in order to simplify the process and take out some of the inefficient bureaucracy behind them?

My hon. Friend is right. Two things need to be done: first, we have to cull the schemes that have not worked, a good number of which we inherited, I am sorry to say; and, secondly, we have to ensure that the schemes are easier for businesses to use. We have created a finance finder so that businesses, rather than having to look at which scheme to use—an equity investment, export or loan support scheme—can secure finance with a number of simple questions. We will be developing and launching that app so that every business, small or large, can apply and get the answers they need quickly.

The International Monetary Fund recently published a report stating that it expects the British economy to grow faster than those of France and Germany. Is not that down to the fact that this Government are cutting corporation tax, reducing regulation and encouraging businesses, such as Jaguar Land Rover in my constituency, to invest? We are making the difference, unlike the Labour party.

That was a tricky question. My hon. Friend is absolutely right and is a fantastic supporter of industry. I think that the Labour party, beyond the jokes, needs to remember that 1.7 million people lost their jobs in manufacturing over the 13 years it was in government.

The Secretary of State, in his leaked letter last week, wrote that “a connecting thread” in the failure to provide a “compelling vision” or economic growth is

“the need for strategic and long term thinking about supply chains and the role played in them by public procurement decisions,”

but that there is

“no connected approach across Government.”

That is presumably the objective of the advanced manufacturing supply chain initiative, which was launched in December. Almost five months after the launch, however, will the Minister of State confirm that no firms have yet received help because not a jot of progress has been made? In the light of missed opportunities throughout Whitehall, whether in green technologies, feed-in tariffs, trains, Royal Navy tankers or nuclear technology, how on earth does Ministers’ dawdling help British businesses grow and win contracts? No firms helped—yes or no?

The point—to answer the hon. Gentleman’s question, if he would like to have an answer—is very simple: we are making good progress on skills, innovation and the supply chain. But is it not right for a Secretary of State to look at progress over 10, 15 and 20 years? Is that not what Governments should do? The Opposition need to bear it in mind, because, if the Labour party in government had looked 10 or 20 years ahead, this country would not be in the mess that we are having to clear up.