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Support for Welsh Businesses

Volume 688: debated on Wednesday 3 February 2021

The Government have provided Welsh businesses with wide-ranging support, including more than £1.5 billion in bounce back loans, £503 million in coronavirus business interruption loans, £726 million for the self-employed income support scheme, in addition to the £5.2 billion funding guarantee given to the Welsh Government.

It is important that, as we build back better and progress the levelling up agenda, businesses in all parts of our United Kingdom are encouraged to maximise the benefits of Brexit and the multitude of trade agreements secured by the Department for International Trade. Can my right hon. Friend give me reassurances that he is working with the DIT to ensure that businesses get the best out of Brexit? Whether those businesses are in Wrexham, Clwyd South, or Sedgefield, we should work as one United Kingdom.

I can give my hon. Friend that assurance. He makes a crucial Union point in his question. We have secured trade deals with more than 60 countries, which is good for Wales, good for Welsh business and good for the UK. I should also tell him that we are working with the Secretary of State for International Trade on putting a proper dedicated team into Wales to deal with these matters in that capital city.

It costs British Wool 50p a kilo to bring Welsh mountain sheep’s wool to market where it sells for only 30p a kilo. I wrote to the Prime Minister six months ago to ask what he was doing to boost this fantastic Welsh product now that his Government are responsible for procurement. Welsh wool as a raw material for carpets and upholstery should be woven into every relevant UK Government-funded public project contract by now. Why is it not?

I am very grateful to the right hon. Lady for raising that question. Indeed, she has raised it with me before, as have a number of others. I have strong sheep-farming interests in my own constituency and I know the problem to which she refers. We are working closely with our colleagues in the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and indeed with the Welsh Government on this and a range of other issues. Since the end of the transition period, we do have more flexibility in our markets for wool and in other matters, but home procurement is very much top of the Government’s agenda.

Timing does seem to be a bit of an issue with the Government. Almost a month has gone by, and it seems that Wales is still waiting for a reply from the UK Government about our final financial settlement. This, of course, has created unnecessary doubt over the date of the Welsh Budget. Welsh businesses and public services are enduring ongoing uncertainty over funding, and this will handicap our response to the pandemic. Will the Secretary of State please explain what is the point of his office if he cannot even persuade his colleagues in the Treasury to speak to the Welsh Government?

That is a slightly strange question, given that the relationship between the Treasury and the Welsh Government, particularly around covid recovery, has been conducted on a daily, if not hourly, basis, with vast sums of money being made available to businesses and individuals of Wales, very much in the spirit of collaboration and co-operation. Rather than trying to make cheap political points, the right hon. Lady should acknowledge the fact that, in these very difficult times, two Governments have worked quite well together and the Union, which is perhaps the point that she does not like me to make, has been particularly crucial in that process.

Before I start, on behalf of the Labour party, I would like to pay tribute to Captain Tom Moore and send our deepest condolences to his family.

Cockle-gathering in both north and south Wales is not just a job, but a way of life, dating back generations. Gatherers, who are already alarmed at DEFRA advice that they could not resume the export of shellfish until April, now feel not just forgotten, but utterly betrayed to discover that UK Ministers knew all along that the EU ban on importing non-decorated UK shellfish would be indefinite. What urgent action will the Secretary of State and his Government take to facilitate the resumption of shellfish exports and save this traditional industry from disappearing forever?

I join the hon. Lady in her tribute. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister will be making a more formal statement in a few minutes’ time, but I do recognise—as does the whole House—the comments she makes.

On the industry and sector to which the hon. Lady refers, I am in close contact with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, the Cabinet Office and, indeed—through the Government—the EU, to make the distinction between teething issues that might be arising out of the particular subject to which she refers, and perhaps more permanent structural matters that may need a longer-term solution. I assure her and the industry that we are very seized of the challenges that the industry currently faces.

Small businesses in Cardiff North and across the country are struggling to cope with impossible red tape, with no time to prepare due to this Government’s eleventh-hour Brexit deal. Despite more than 10 days preparing the correct documents for full compliance, a local family export meat business has had its produce turned away in Italy, leading to thousands of pounds of stock being destroyed. The owners have subsequently been up all night every night trying to salvage and recoup. They do not want to hear excuses such as “teething problems” when it is their and their employees’ livelihoods on the line, so can the Secretary of State clarify what urgent actions he and his colleagues are taking to resolve these issues, and will he meet me along with this business to see how he can help?

I received the hon. Lady’s letter about this particular constituent only last night. I am very happy to meet her and to see if we can resolve her constituent’s particular problems; that letter is already receiving the urgent attention that it deserves. I would challenge her on the readiness point that she makes more generally, given the numerous levels of engagement that I and other Government colleagues conducted in the run-up to the end of the transition period; and given the reaction since then from businesses and stakeholders across Wales. They are generally supportive of the fact that a deal has been reached and of the opportunities that it presents, and now actually want to get on with a positive relationship with the EU and the other countries with which we deal.