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The most up-to-date independently audited figures show that in the 12 months to September 2013, UKTI supported nearly 35,000 businesses. The value of additional sales attributed to UKTI support over that period was more than £50 billion. UKTI is on track to meet its target to assist 40,000 businesses in 2013-14.
In export week, I welcome that news, but what concrete steps are being taken by UKTI to reform its structure, personnel and strategy in order to ensure that we meet the Government’s £1 trillion target for exports?
My hon. Friend will be aware, because I know he takes a strong interest in this area, of the reforms to UKTI, which is now working closely with British businesses. This week, I attended the world’s leading trade and industrial technology fair in Hanover and saw UKTI working with the Birmingham chamber of commerce to provide support for 40 UK companies. It is estimated that from that fair alone some £5 million-worth of orders are in the pipeline.
In February, UK exports actually fell. Given the fact that last year only a fifth of the total amount of money available for financing exports was actually used, what more can the Minister do to increase the uptake of UK export finance in order to boost our exports?
The hon. Gentleman makes an important point. There are schemes to assist companies with their export finance, but only large companies have taken advantage of them in the past. We need to do more to market those schemes. I do not think it is fair to take one month’s particular trade figures. We are increasing our trade, particularly to the emerging economies of Brazil, Russia, India and China.
The fact is, though, that exports are at their worst and lowest level since 2010. It is interesting that the chief economist of the British Chambers of Commerce has said:
“We need to match resources committed by our major competitors if we are to compete on a level-playing field when exporting overseas.”
What is the Minister doing specifically to ensure a level playing field for the chemical industry?
The trade deficit actually narrowed in 2013, so I repeat that I do not think it is right to take just the figures from February. We have specifically been helping the chemical sector recently. The energy package announced in the Budget will make a significant difference in freezing the carbon price floor. We are giving the chemical industry more help by exempting it from the renewables obligation and the feed-in tariffs. The energy taxes are being cut, which will significantly help both the chemical and the steel industry.