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SMEs: Exports

Volume 634: debated on Thursday 11 January 2018

We have three main ways to support exports by SMEs. First, the website offers digital tools, and has had more than 2.7 million visitors; secondly, international trade advisers based across England are supporting businesses; and thirdly, UK Export Finance has provided £3 billion in support. Last year it helped 221 UK companies, 79% of which were SMEs.

I am grateful for that answer. An additional hurdle faced by many SMEs in growing their exports is obtaining affordable political risk insurance. What steps can the Minister’s Department take to help in that matter?

My hon. Friend asks a good and pertinent question, and that is why UK Export Finance is working to ensure that SMEs can access the insurance that they need to export and invest overseas with confidence. Last year we launched an enhanced overseas investment insurance product to protect UK businesses against political risk when investing abroad, and I strongly recommend that product to companies in my hon. Friend’s Milton Keynes constituency.

There has been a significant revival of small and medium-sized manufacturing in the Black country over the past two or three years, so does the Minister agree that we need to do all we can to support those small and medium-sized manufacturing companies in the Black country to access markets around the world with development potential?

My hon. Friend makes a good, strong, pertinent point, which applies not just in the Black country but throughout the country. We have our export strategy, which will be reporting in the spring. I remind the House of our fantastic manufacturing figures—record growth in output, the highest in 10 years, growing 4% year on year according to new data just out. Confidence in manufacturing is at its highest in four years, according to the EEF.

There is a very close relationship between small and medium-sized manufacturers’ success in exporting and the viability of small and medium-sized road hauliers, many of whom are seriously concerned at the possibility of incurring substantial additional costs and facing additional bureaucracy if we cannot get an agreement that, for example, driving licences issued in the UK will be recognised in other countries when we leave the EU. What progress has been made in ensuring cast-iron guarantees that small road hauliers will not face any additional burdens in exporting to the EU after Brexit?

As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has pointed out, we are seeking a barrier-free, frictionless trading arrangement with the European Union as we leave. May I point out that the hon. Gentleman is seeking to put in place the potential for barriers between Scotland and the rest of the United Kingdom? Sixty-four per cent. of Scottish exports go to the rest of the UK, compared with just 15% to the rest of the Union.

Many SMEs have identified external and internal finances as well as a lack of awareness of the support available to them as barriers to entering the export market. Will the Minister ensure that those concerns are addressed in the Government’s review of the export strategy?

The hon. Gentleman makes a good point, and that is certainly very much part of the export strategy. I remind him and the whole House of some of the work we have been doing to ensure that finance is more accessible. We signed agreements in July 2016 and July 2017 with the leading UK banks to ensure that their SME customers can access finance more easily and that UK Export Finance assistance in particular is directly available.