The Government wish to rebalance the economy to help Northern Ireland compete in the global race for jobs and investment. This is the aim of the economic package agreed between the Government and the Executive. The successful G8 has also demonstrated to the world that Northern Ireland is very much open for business.
I am grateful to the Secretary of State for that reply. She will be aware that at the beginning of this month the Northern Ireland Independent Retail Trade Association warmly welcomed the initiative being spearheaded by the shadow Business Secretary, my hon. Friend the Member for Streatham (Mr Umunna), to make 7 December “small business Saturday”. Will she put on record her support for that proposal and outline the concrete steps she will take to ensure that it is a success?
Small business Saturday was raised with me by Glyn Roberts of NIIRTA when I met small businesses just a few days ago. The Government are determined to rebalance the economy to create the right conditions for growth in Northern Ireland. That was the aim of the extensive economic package that we agreed with the First Minister and Deputy First Minister, which was broadly welcomed by people such as the Taoiseach, the US President and even the shadow Secretary of State. That provides a good platform to help small businesses.
One of the obstacles to the growth of the economy in Northern Ireland has been the lack of funding from banks to help small and medium-sized enterprises. What discussions has the Secretary of State had with the banks so that funding can be made available to these companies?
The Secretary of State will agree that, because of the shape of the Northern Ireland economy, public contracts represent a significant part of the market opportunity for our private sector. Does she therefore agree that any implications of sleaze or partisan hands being greased in relation to public contracts or any other governmental decisions that could favour the private sector should be investigated to the full?
These are devolved matters. It is, of course, for the Assembly to investigate any allegations made along those lines. It is not for me as Secretary of State to intervene in those allegations. I am sure the Assembly and Executive will deal with them in an appropriate manner.