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Small and Medium-sized Enterprises

Volume 617: debated on Wednesday 23 November 2016

3. What steps he is taking to ensure that Scottish small and medium-sized enterprises are protected from economic uncertainty. (907318)

The Government will continue to provide an environment where small and medium-sized enterprises everywhere can thrive. That means cutting red tape, keeping taxes low, tackling late payment and improving access to finance. We are committed to ensuring the whole of the UK is a great place to start and grow a business.

Figures produced by the Scottish Government show that SMEs constitute 99% of all private sector enterprise and more than 50% of employment in Scotland. If the economy suffers any form of setback—and the Chancellor is predicting one—these enterprises will be hardest hit. Given their importance, what is the Minister doing to reduce uncertainty and to support their growth?

The UK economy is strong in spite of uncertainty. Scottish SMEs currently benefit from nearly £400 million of investment from the British Business Bank and Innovate UK aimed at helping them to grow and capitalise on new technologies and new export markets.

13. Does the Minister agree, given that the UK market is four times the size of the EU market in Scotland, that it is clear why businesses are saying loud and clear that they do not want talk of another independence referendum, but instead want stability to strengthen the economy? (907330)

I quite agree with my hon. Friend. SMEs in Scotland trade four times as much within the single market of the United Kingdom as with the EU. Indeed, they trade more with markets in the rest of the world than across the entire EU.

One of the key things that the Scottish and UK Governments could do to take away uncertainty for SMEs and businesses across Scotland is to take a second independence referendum off the table. Something else the Government could do—I hope we will hear this in the autumn statement—is conclude the Edinburgh city deal. What discussions has the Minister had with the Chancellor to make sure we hear that in the next few minutes?

I share the hon. Gentleman’s enthusiasm for that city deal, but we will have to wait another hour for more detail, and I could not agree more that the uncertainty in Scotland is coming far more from talk of another referendum than from the outcome of the EU referendum.

Yesterday it was announced that over 500 jobs in the Tannochside area of my constituency were under threat, as Ageas Kwik Fit Insurance has announced plans to axe its entire Scottish operation. If these plans proceed, it will be a devastating blow to the local community just before Christmas. What assistance can the Secretary of State and his Government provide for these constituents and families at this difficult time?

Obviously this will be a very difficult time for the Kwik Fit workforce and their families, particularly in the run-up to Christmas, as the hon. Gentleman mentioned. I understand that Kwik Fit is consulting on closure by the end of next March, and I hope that the affected workers will quickly be able to move into alternative employment. The UK Government will assist with support from the Jobcentre Plus rapid reaction service, working also with North Lanarkshire Council, to help all those being made redundant.

10. Given the importance of exports to England from Scotland, what is my hon. Friend’s estimate of the number of jobs involved in this process, and does that figure not demonstrate the importance to Scotland and its economy of staying in the UK? (907327)

The answer should relate specifically to SMEs, which I am sure the hon. Gentleman intended to mention.

The unemployment rate in Scotland is lower than that in the rest of the UK, and SMEs in Scotland, as my hon. Friend points out, benefit from this trend as much as any other businesses in Scotland.

On 12 October, in response to a question about the deal struck with Nissan, the Secretary of State stood at the Dispatch Box and said—you can probably quote it verbatim, Mr Speaker—that

“whatever support is put in place for businesses in the north of England will apply to businesses in Scotland.”—[Official Report, 12 October 2016; Vol. 615, c. 287.]

Is the Secretary of State or the Minister willing to confirm that this is still the case? If so, will they provide us with more detail of the support? SMEs need to know.

My right hon. Friend was exactly right in what he said about the Nissan deal. The same level of support will indeed be available to Scottish businesses, but, as for the detail, the right hon. Gentleman will have to wait another hour for the autumn statement.

I am very grateful to the Minister, especially for my promotion to the Privy Council. I welcome her commitment, which I am sure will reassure SMEs and businesses of all sizes, but there must have been an analysis of the costs. What assessment has been made of the cost of this support?

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will be making an assessment of the costs and the benefits of all such deals on an ongoing basis.