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Volume 604: debated on Wednesday 13 January 2016

2. What assessment he has made of the adequacy of Government support for small and medium-sized businesses in Wales. (902939)

Our nation’s small businesses are the true heroes of this economic recovery, and I am proud to be part of a Government who are on their side. SMEs have created two thirds of all the new jobs in the private sector in Wales since 2010. As we continue to reduce regulation and lower taxes, support for small businesses right across the UK has never been stronger.

This year is the British Chambers of Commerce year of action on exports. Will my right hon. Friend update the House on how he is helping small businesses in Wales to punch above their weight this year?

My hon. Friend raises a very important point. We have set ourselves a really ambitious target of £1 trillion of exports from the UK by 2020. If we are going to have any hope of meeting that target, we need to engage with SMEs right across the UK, especially in Wales. That is why I will be in north Wales tomorrow, with my right hon. Friend the Minister for Trade and Investment, promoting everything that north Wales has to offer.

The Welsh steel industry plays a critical role in underpinning business right across the board, including SMEs, but global headwinds affecting the industry have been growing stronger. Will the Secretary of State join me and Welsh MPs from all parties in asking for a meeting with his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills to ensure that no stone remains unturned in the fight to save the Welsh steel industry?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his question and for the spirit in which he asked it. He knows as well as we do that the steel industry right across the UK, not least in Wales, faces a global crisis. He is aware of all the different actions being taken by the Government to try to help the British and Welsh steel industry face the global nature of the crisis. I am very happy to pass on his request to the Business Secretary. We are obviously in very close contact, as is the hon. Gentleman, with Tata, and especially the plant in Port Talbot in his constituency.

My right hon. Friend will know that one of the small businesses emerging in Wales is Tidal Lagoon Power Ltd, which has exciting plans for the Swansea bay tidal lagoon. The roll-out programme also includes Cardiff, Newport and north Wales. When can we expect to hear what financial support will be forthcoming from the Government so that this exciting project can proceed without delay?

My right hon. Friend the former Secretary of State is right. The Swansea tidal lagoon proposition is very exciting and commands wide support across the business community in Wales, but we also need to recognise that the project is asking for a very significant level of public subsidy and intervention. It is absolutely right that my right hon. and hon. Friends in the Treasury and the Department of Energy and Climate Change should conduct very robust due diligence in making sure that such projects will deliver value for the taxpayer.

One of the issues that small businesses raise with me in my constituency is the lack of connectivity for superfast broadband and, indeed, mobile connections. Now that the Government and the Prime Minister agree with me on the universal obligation for broadband, will the Secretary of State help me by supporting a pilot scheme on Ynys Môn, the Isle of Anglesey?

The hon. Gentleman raises a very important point. We have discussed this many times in Wales questions and debates. Improvements are happening right across Wales, and we are seeing big improvements in internet connectivity and for mobile phones in his constituency and mine. There is much more that we can do. I am very interested to hear about a pilot project in Anglesey, which I am happy to discuss with ministerial colleagues.

In early December, the UK Government announced £50 million of additional funding to address flooding issues. That figure has Barnett consequentials for Wales of £2.276 million. Since then, a further £90 million has been announced by the UK Government, and we await to see what, if any, Barnett consequentials will arise from that. On the new money to be allocated to Wales, will the Secretary of State join me in calling on the Welsh Assembly Government to allocate it to St Asaph? Many SMEs, as well as local residents, were flooded there three years ago, and there is currently a £4 million shortfall for the necessary flood defence works.

I absolutely join my hon. Friend in making that suggestion and recommendation. It is worth putting it on the record that our sympathy and thoughts are with all the families and businesses in Wales, as well as with those right across the UK, that suffered damage due to flooding over the Christmas period. All the new money that the Government have announced to address flooding issues has delivered Barnett consequentials for Wales. It is up to the Welsh Government to decide how to use that money, but we certainly want them to use every single penny to help to address flooding issues. I am afraid that we will have to come back time and again to such issues and discuss them in this place.

Further to the question from the hon. Member for Aberavon (Stephen Kinnock), the Minister will undoubtedly share our concern about press reports over the weekend. What contingency plans do the UK Government have for a worse-case scenario? Would he support a Welsh public stake in the Welsh operations of Tata, as was afforded to the banks of London during the financial crash of 2008?

I will not engage in the speculation about job cuts that we saw in the press at the weekend. Members from all parts of the House need to be responsible in how we debate these issues. We are in very close contact with Tata internationally and with regard to its operations across the UK, including in south Wales. We are discussing closely what its needs are at this moment. There are big issues and questions that need to be addressed.