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Last year, we supported more than £4 billion of export finance, which is more than in any other year for a decade. This week, we announced additional funding to enable UKTI to support 3,000 more medium-sized businesses.
Following the question from my hon. Friend Philip Davies, will the Minister agree that the best way to exploit emerging markets is often through EU free trade agreements? In the light of that, will he support the all-party parliamentary group on European Union-United States trade and investment to ensure that small and micro businesses are front and centre in the proposed free trade agreement with America?
I am a strong supporter of the transatlantic trade and investment partnership. The trade deal between the EU and Canada is a big step forward and provides a basis on which we can build TTIP. The involvement of small businesses in TTIP will provide them with extremely valuable support in creating jobs.
We have some excellent exporters in north Oxfordshire, such as Norbar Torque, E. P. Barrus, Crompton Technology and Prodrive to name but a few. Those companies generate jobs themselves and through the contracts that they give to local SMEs. What is my hon. Friend doing to support SMEs in the export supply chain?
Across the Department, we work to support supply chains. Specifically, UKTI’s high value opportunities programme targets 100 projects that are based globally. That programme supports not just the primes, but their supply chains in Oxfordshire and across the country.
One area of export growth has been in recyclate of glass and plastics. Unfortunately, that has had a perverse effect because the packaging recovery note system, which is supposed to direct money into the creation of infrastructure for our own recycling industry, has been denied the feedstock that the industry needs if it is to grow. Will the Minister look at what more he can do to expand our recycling industry, rather than export it?
I would be delighted to speak to the hon. Gentleman to understand more about the packaging recycling industry and to see whether we can tackle that problem.
If we are to grow the economy and increase exports, we need to ensure that there is support for SMEs. In the last quarter, net lending to small and medium-sized enterprises fell by more then £1 billion. When will Ministers get a grip and start backing our wealth creators to take on employees and develop greater opportunities for exports?
Of course, the economy is growing, jobs are being created and the amount of gross lending is rising, but we are recovering from an extremely difficult situation. We all know what the causes of that were, and many of them came from those on the Labour Front Bench. Turning around our economy to support small businesses, whether through access to finance, support for exports, which are going up, or otherwise, is the Government’s central task. It is a huge job, because we were left in a huge hole.
It is absolutely essential that we encourage more small and medium-sized businesses to export, but does the Minister agree that the term “SMEs” is often unhelpful? There is a huge difference between the needs of medium-sized and small businesses, and between the range of small businesses, from the largest to single proprietor? Will he recognise those differences and tailor accordingly?
I strongly support my hon. Friend. In fact, as part of our long-term economic plan I am trying to banish the term “SMEs” and instead use “small businesses”. A business with, say, 10 employees is very different from a business with 249 employees, so an end to the acronym “SME” would be a valuable step forward.