In March, the Office for Budget Responsibility expected net trade to make a roughly neutral contribution to growth until 2018. However, since GDP data methodology has recently been revised we will not have a fully updated view until December, with the OBR’s new forecast.
Recent statistics from the Office for National Statistics show that the UK’s trade deficit has risen to £2.8 billion in September, up from £1.8 billion in the previous month. In the light of that, will the Secretary of State confirm that since the Government’s direct loan facility was launched a year ago to help businesses to export, only one firm has benefited from such support since it was announced?
The hon. Lady is horribly out of date; dozens of companies are now benefiting from that new suite of credit facilities, which is one of a range of activities we are putting in place to support British exporters. When we entered office, about 27,000 companies were helped by UK Trade & Investment, but that is now up to 50,000, and the impact is already being felt in the big emerging markets, such as China and India, where there is very rapid export growth.
The Investment Management Association told me last week that Asian investors were increasingly looking to mainland Europe because of the uncertainty over the UK’s membership of the European single market. What effect will this uncertainty have on the Secretary of State’s trade forecasts?
My hon. Friend is right to stress the importance of inward investment to job growth in the UK. Indeed, many manufacturers and banks in the City of London have made it clear that the expectation of being able to export to the European single market is fundamental to their decision to locate here.
Will the Secretary of State welcome the contribution that will be made to trade by the Ladder for the Black Country, a brilliant apprenticeship scheme established by the Vine Trust and the Express and Star, which is working with hundreds of businesses to provide thousands of apprenticeships and give young people the jobs and skills they need to develop careers? Is this not exactly the sort of scheme that should be copied nation-wide?
On the basis of that quick précis, it sounds as if it is. As the hon. Gentleman knows, we have seen a rapid expansion of apprenticeships, which we are very proud of, as they are fundamental to meeting the demand for skills, particularly higher skills. I would be interested to hear more about his local programme and to see what we can do to help.
Will the Secretary of State join me in welcoming the recent news that record amounts of British food and drink are now being exported—something that I was doing before I came to this place—and that great British food is now available in more than 150 countries?
Yes, it is often forgotten when we talk about manufacturers that the food and drinks sector is the largest by a considerable measure. It is a considerable success and we are supporting it, not just through the work of UKTI, but through our work on agri-tech industries, innovation and the skills strategy.
The Government promised an export-led recovery, but as my hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham East (Heidi Alexander) mentioned, the trade gap is widening and exports are going backwards. Why, then, have the Government, mid-year, slashed the budget for the trade show access programme that helps small businesses new to exporting or new to markets to gain access to international trade shows? I have had sight of a private letter from the trade association, the Sponsors Alliance, to the Prime Minister asking him to reverse this dreadful decision. Will the Secretary of State support this plea from small businesses and not slash the funding they desperately need to support their exporting activities?
First, there is no question of the budget being slashed; it has been substantially increased, and the question is how much it should have been increased by. I am aware of the concerns of trade associations, however, and have met them and discussed the matter with them, and we are endeavouring to ensure they have the maximum support.