Trade Credit Insurance Scheme

Oral Answers to Questions — Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform – in the House of Commons at 10:30 am on 7th May 2009.

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Photo of Lindsay Roy Lindsay Roy Labour, Glenrothes 10:30 am, 7th May 2009

What eligibility criteria will apply to assistance under his Department's trade credit insurance scheme; and if he will make a statement.

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Photo of Ian Pearson Ian Pearson Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Economic and Business), Department for Business, Enterprise & Regulatory Reform, Economic Secretary (Economic and Business), HM Treasury

In the Budget, the Chancellor announced a £5 billion trade credit insurance scheme to support businesses that have suffered reductions in their level of cover. From 1 May until 31 December this year, businesses of all sizes and in all sectors will be able to purchase six months of "top-up" insurance from the Government if credit limits on their customers are reduced by their insurance provider. The level of cover held under a whole turnover trade credit insurance policy must be in place for at least 30 days before it is reduced, but that criterion has been backdated to 1 April.

To be eligible, the trade concerned needs to take place within the UK, with payment terms of no more than 120 days. Further details of the scheme are on the Business Link website.

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Photo of Lindsay Roy Lindsay Roy Labour, Glenrothes

I congratulate the Minister on taking that initiative, which has been warmly appreciated by several businesses in my constituency. However, will my hon. Friend clarify whether the scheme applies only to the UK? If so, are there plans to extend it to overseas suppliers and customers?

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Photo of Ian Pearson Ian Pearson Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Economic and Business), Department for Business, Enterprise & Regulatory Reform, Economic Secretary (Economic and Business), HM Treasury

I can confirm to my hon. Friend that the scheme applies only to the United Kingdom, but he will be aware that we are considering a proposal for confirming letters of credit, and we intend the Export Credits Guarantee Department to operate it. The ECGD will consult on the proposal shortly. The plight of UK exporters must be addressed, and that is why we are considering that proposal along with other measures that might be implemented to help our exporters. However, I should point out that we have a very competitive exchange rate, some very efficient UK businesses and some opportunities to take advantage of.

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Photo of Elfyn Llwyd Elfyn Llwyd Shadow Spokesperson (Innovation, Universities and Skills), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Home Affairs), Shadow Chief Whip (Commons), Shadow Spokesperson (Business, Innovation and Skills), Shadow Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs), Shadow Spokesperson (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs), Shadow Spokesperson (Justice)

Back in mid-November, I questioned the Prime Minister about the need for this kind of scheme. He gave me a typically long, convoluted and laborious answer, implying that the issue was already being addressed. Imagine my surprise when I discovered that the scheme came in only last Friday; five and a half months have been lost.

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Photo of Ian Pearson Ian Pearson Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Economic and Business), Department for Business, Enterprise & Regulatory Reform, Economic Secretary (Economic and Business), HM Treasury

I would like to think that the hon. Gentleman would welcome the trade credit insurance scheme, which has been welcomed by a wide variety of business organisations. It will now provide support that, as I said, will be backdated to 1 April. We believe that it will help companies on the margin whose cover has been reduced. It will help businesses, and I would like to think that the hon. Gentleman's party will welcome that part of the Budget.

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Photo of Adrian Bailey Adrian Bailey Labour, West Bromwich West

I welcome and acknowledge the help that the scheme is giving UK businesses. However, I want to reinforce the message that has come from other Members about the difficulties faced by exporters. Although I welcome the Government's consultation, may I urge the Minister to carry it out quickly and act as soon as possible, before some companies go to the wall?

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Photo of Ian Pearson Ian Pearson Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Economic and Business), Department for Business, Enterprise & Regulatory Reform, Economic Secretary (Economic and Business), HM Treasury

My hon. Friend comes from the same neck of the woods as I do, and I am very aware of businesses in the black country that are exporting and have found life difficult because of tightening credit conditions. I am keen that we should move on with the proposal on confirmation of letters of credit—consult on it and get it implemented as quickly as possible. The business community has asked for the scheme and it will be of benefit. Obviously, however, there will be a consultation and we want to hear the responses to it.

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Photo of Julie Kirkbride Julie Kirkbride Conservative, Bromsgrove

As a fellow west midlands MP, the Minister will be only too well aware of the importance of Jaguar Land Rover to the west midlands economy. The company employs more than 14,000 people directly and many more indirectly, and it anchors the automotive engineering business in the region. The Minister must therefore understand the huge concern about yesterday's BBC reports that talks between the Government and Tata, the owner of Jaguar Land Rover, are breaking down. I would be grateful for any update from the Minister that I might relay to my constituents who work at the company.

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Photo of Ian Pearson Ian Pearson Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Economic and Business), Department for Business, Enterprise & Regulatory Reform, Economic Secretary (Economic and Business), HM Treasury

As the hon. Lady will be aware, Tata has denied those reports. Discussions are ongoing. The Government regard JLR as a viable company with good long-term prospects. We want to see the company through difficult trading times and to provide it and its employees with stability. That is why we have been having confidential discussions with JLR and its parent company about both the short-term and long-term financing in its business plans. Those negotiations are ongoing.

It is important that those discussions should be handled professionally and face to face, rather than through the media; handling them through the media is not helpful to the company. We have not yet had any response to the proposal that we put to JLR last Friday, but obviously we would welcome one and we continue to have discussions with the company.

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Photo of David Drew David Drew Labour, Stroud

One of the problems is how few trade credit insurance firms there are. We all have examples of how difficult it is for a company that has lost its trade credit insurance to find another trade credit insurance firm to take it on. Given all the current problems, will the Minister give me an assurance that there will be an investigation into the structure of the industry to make sure that there is enough variety of providers and that businesses can get insurance so that they can trade properly?

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Photo of Ian Pearson Ian Pearson Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Economic and Business), Department for Business, Enterprise & Regulatory Reform, Economic Secretary (Economic and Business), HM Treasury

As my hon. Friend is aware, the trade credit insurance market is dominated by three firms—Euler Hermes, Coface and Atradius. The ECGD used to provide short-term credit insurance, but it has not done so for a number of years since it privatised that operation out to Atradius. He is right to point out that many companies rely on trade credit insurance. Our figures suggest that about 14,000 out of 250,000 companies have trade credit insurance, so it is a significant market, and we need to keep under review whether it is functioning efficiently. We have to consider whether there is more that we can be doing sensibly, as a Government, to help our businesses through these difficult times. What we have here is a Government who are actively looking at providing support—real help to business now rather than a party that wants to do nothing.

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