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House of Commons Hansard
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20 November 2013
Volume 570
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3. What plans he has to encourage growth in the small and medium-sized enterprise sector in Wales. [901095]

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Small and medium-sized enterprises are vital to the economy in Wales and, indeed, the UK as a whole. That is why we have launched the Business is Great campaign, focusing on how we can further support these thriving businesses.

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I agree with the Secretary of State that small businesses in the Principality and across the country are the lifeblood of the economy. Considerable moves have been made already on the tax front and in lifting burdensome regulations. What more can he do, working with the Welsh Government, further to enhance wealth creation and the job-generating power of small businesses?

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My hon. Friend is absolutely right that SMEs are the backbone of the Welsh economy, and we are keen to do all we can to encourage them. That is why we have initiated the StartUp loans scheme, which has already lent about £50 million to more than 9,000 new businesses. With effect from this October, working with the Welsh Government, we have announced the scheme’s roll-out to Wales, so that any Welsh entrepreneur with a good idea can come forward and apply for a loan.

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The Secretary of State will know that SMEs in Dwyfor Meirionnydd are doing their best to thrive in the face of coalition austerity, as he visited the first ever Meirionnydd day the week before last. I thank him for attending it. However, the economic situation outside London is far different from down here, so why not make the National Insurance Contributions Bill, which is currently going through the House, apply everywhere outside London and south-east England, thereby mirroring a move in the Government’s emergency Budget of 2010?

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I did, indeed, enjoy my visit to the Meirionnydd day that the right hon. Gentleman held, and I was very impressed by the positive attitude of SMEs from his constituency. He will know that the national insurance contributions employment allowance will benefit 35,000 businesses across Wales by a total of £50 million, with 20,000 of those businesses being taken out employer national insurance contributions altogether, which I would have thought his constituents welcomed.

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Welsh exports were down by just under £1 billion over the past 12 months, which is the biggest fall in any UK nation or English region. What discussions is the Secretary of State having with the Chancellor to ensure that the Welsh producing economy, which is comprised mainly of SMEs, is not paying the price for a growing service and finance economy centred on London and the south-east?

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We are anxious to ensure that as many SMEs as possible export. That is a good reason for Welsh SMEs to utilise the services of UK Trade & Investment. UKTI has global reach and is available to every business, including those in Wales. I encourage the right hon. Gentleman to encourage his constituents to seek the services it offers.

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The extension of the StartUp loans scheme to Wales is fantastic news for budding entrepreneurs across the nation. Will the Secretary of State join me in calling on the enterprise agencies, such as Business in Focus, which serves the Vale of Glamorgan, to co-ordinate their activities in a campaign to get more people to start their own businesses?

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Indeed; we need more entrepreneurs in Wales to set up their own businesses. The roll-out of the StartUp loans scheme to Wales is extremely good news. It was done in co-operation with the Welsh Government and I was pleased to see their entirely positive attitude to it.

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Swansea accepts that Hull, coming out of the shadows, not Swansea, continuing to shine, was named the UK city of culture for 2017. Does the Secretary of State agree that to maximise the growth of SMEs, we need to keep the momentum of the bid going, maximise the opportunity of the Dylan Thomas centenary and confirm Swansea as the city of culture of Wales?

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I agree entirely with the hon. Gentleman. While I congratulate Hull, I was bitterly disappointed that Swansea did not get the accolade of city of culture. Nevertheless, Swansea’s bid was an extremely good one and the networks that were built up can form a good platform for future enterprises. I agree that the Dylan Thomas centenary is a massive opportunity for Swansea.