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Business Support (Exports)

Volume 603: debated on Tuesday 15 December 2015

My Department is leading a cross-Whitehall work programme to support exports. For example, UK Trade & Investment connects UK businesses with export opportunities throughout the world. Over the next year, the UKTI export hub will travel around the country to give face-to-face assistance to first-time exporters.

Feedback from businesses in my constituency suggests that there needs to be more support for small and medium-sized enterprises that export less than half a million pounds’ worth of goods. It suggests that once they are in the bracket of Government support, that support is short-lived, and is complicated by red tape. How would the Secretary of State respond to those businesses?

I agree that we should always try to do more to help small and medium-sized enterprises, in particular, to export more. The hon. Gentleman may know that I recently led one of our first regional trade missions, the northern powerhouse trade mission, to the far east. It included not only the Greater Manchester chamber of commerce, but companies such as Televic Education, which is in his constituency.

Fairline has a long history of exporting luxury boats across the world, but last week we heard the devastating news of 380 redundancies. While I hope that the administrator can identify a buyer, many of those employees have been laid off for significant periods with reduced pay. Will the Secretary of State do all that he can to ensure that the redundancy payments are expedited, especially given that Christmas is just around the corner?

This is, of course, a very difficult time for the employees who have been affected. I will certainly look into the position, and, during discussions with any potential buyer, I will ensure that export opportunities are highlighted.

Do the Government foresee any long-term difficulties with the transatlantic trade agreement with the United States if the Americans decide to export agri-food products into the UK?

The hon. Gentleman will know that these discussions are still going on. By their very nature, they are complex, as two huge economic areas are involved, and so they will still take some time. Agri-products and all products of that nature need to be carefully looked at, so we have not reached a final point. It is worth remembering that once this deal is done, it can be worth up to £400 for every household in the UK each year.

In my former career, I exported broadcasting equipment to 48 countries worldwide—no thanks to the EU and its regulations. Is it not the case that people need the chutzpah to export, and although the Department can give as much help as it can, people have actually to get out there and do it, and be confident in doing so?

One thing we know is that my hon. Friend is not short of chutzpah, and I am glad he deployed it in his former career. He is absolutely right in what he says and he makes a key point: there is only so much the Government can do. We will do that and look for ways to provide even more support, but we want more and more companies to do everything they can, too.

The Government’s so-called support for exports has seen grants converted to loans, and the sudden closure of the business growth service. Businesses supported by that service grew four times faster than other businesses, and the scheme created 83,000 jobs and added more than £3.5 billion to the national economy. As one BGS mentor says,

“the service’s closure doesn’t make sense considering its huge success and may prove detrimental to Britain’s economic health.”

What message does the closure of the BGS send to businesses that want to grow? Given the outstanding record of success, does the closure of the service not show a complete lack of understanding by this Government of what works on support for exports?

I am glad the hon. Gentleman has raised the issue of the BGS, because although it was a good fee-earner for consultants, there is very little evidence to show that it helped businesses to grow. [Interruption.] There is little evidence that it was the best way to help those businesses. The best way to help businesses is to make sure that we continue to have a growing economy—our economy is growing faster than those of all our rivals—so one thing he can do is support our long-term economic plan. We are also providing funding to 39 local enterprise partnerships—all the LEPs—through growth hubs, which they can use for localised support, including export opportunities.