Scottish Questions

Scottish Questions

Margot James answers MPs’ questions relating the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy in Scotland.

Small and Medium-sized Enterprises

Paul Blomfield (Sheffield Central) (Lab)
3. What steps he is taking to ensure that Scottish small and medium-sized enterprises are protected from economic uncertainty. [907318]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (Margot James)
The Government will continue to provide an environment where small and medium-sized enterprises everywhere can thrive. That means cutting red tape, keeping taxes low, tackling late payment and improving access to finance. We are committed to ensuring the whole of the UK is a great place to start and grow a business.

Paul Blomfield
Figures produced by the Scottish Government show that SMEs constitute 99% of all private sector enterprise and more than 50% of employment in Scotland. If the economy suffers any form of setback—and the Chancellor is predicting one—these enterprises will be hardest hit. Given their importance, what is the Minister doing to reduce uncertainty and to support their growth?

Margot James
The UK economy is strong in spite of uncertainty. Scottish SMEs currently benefit from nearly £400 million of investment from the British Business Bank and Innovate UK aimed at helping them to grow and capitalise on new technologies and new export markets.

Craig Tracey (North Warwickshire) (Con)
13. Does the Minister agree, given that the UK market is four times the size of the EU market in Scotland, that it is clear why businesses are saying loud and clear that they do not want talk of another independence referendum, but instead want stability to strengthen the economy? [907330]

Margot James
I quite agree with my hon. Friend. SMEs in Scotland trade four times as much within the single market of the United Kingdom than with the EU. Indeed, they trade more with markets in the rest of the world than across the entire EU.

Ian Murray (Edinburgh South) (Lab)
One of the key things that the Scottish and UK Governments could do to take away uncertainty for SMEs and businesses across Scotland is to take a second independence referendum off the table. Something else the Government could do—I hope we will hear this in the autumn statement—is conclude the Edinburgh city deal. What discussions has the Minister had with the Chancellor to make sure we hear that in the next few minutes?

Margot James
I share the hon. Gentleman’s enthusiasm for that city deal, but we will have to wait another hour for more detail, and I could not agree more that the uncertainty in Scotland is coming far more from talk of another referendum than from the outcome of the EU referendum.

Philip Boswell (Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill) (SNP)
Yesterday it was announced that over 500 jobs in the Tannochside area of my constituency were under threat, as Ageas Kwik Fit Insurance has announced plans to axe its entire Scottish operation. If these plans proceed, it will be a devastating blow to the local community just before Christmas. What assistance can the Secretary of State and his Government provide for these constituents and families at this difficult time?

Margot James
Obviously this will be a very difficult time for the Kwik Fit workforce and their families, particularly in the run-up to Christmas, as the hon. Gentleman mentioned. I understand that Kwik Fit is consulting on closure by the end of next March, and I hope that the affected workers will quickly be able to move into alternative employment. The UK Government will assist with support from the Jobcentre Plus rapid reaction service, working also with North Lanarkshire Council, to help all those being made redundant.

Bob Blackman (Harrow East) (Con)
10. Given the importance of exports to England from Scotland, what is my hon. Friend’s estimate of the number of jobs involved in this process, and does that figure not demonstrate the importance to Scotland and its economy of staying in the UK? [907327]

Mr Speaker
The answer should relate specifically to SMEs, which I am sure the hon. Gentleman intended to mention.

Margot James
The unemployment rate in Scotland is lower than that in the rest of the UK, and SMEs in Scotland, as my hon. Friend points out, benefit from this trend as much as any other businesses in Scotland.

Stephen Pound (Ealing North) (Lab)
On 12 October, in response to a question about the deal struck with Nissan, the Secretary of State stood at the Dispatch Box and said—you can probably quote it verbatim, Mr Speaker—that
“whatever support is put in place for businesses in the north of England will apply to businesses in Scotland.”—[Official Report, 12 October 2016; Vol. 615, c. 287.]

Is the Secretary of State or the Minister willing to confirm that this is still the case? If so, will they provide us with more detail of the support? SMEs need to know.

Margot James
My right hon. Friend was exactly right in what he said about the Nissan deal. The same level of support will indeed be available to Scottish businesses, but, as for the detail, the right hon. Gentleman will have to wait another hour for the autumn statement.

Stephen Pound
I am very grateful to the Minister, especially for my promotion to the Privy Council. I welcome her commitment, which I am sure will reassure SMEs and businesses of all sizes, but there must have been an analysis of the costs. What assessment has been made of the cost of this support?

Margot James
My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will be making an assessment of the costs and the benefits of all such deals on an ongoing basis.

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Victoria Atkins (Louth and Horncastle) (Con)
6. What discussions he has had with Scottish businesses and other groups on the UK’s negotiations to leave the EU. [907323]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (Margot James)
Since the referendum, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has held 60 meetings with well over 100 Scottish organisations to hear their views. In addition, my right hon. Friend the Business Secretary has met businesses in Aberdeen, while the Minister for Trade has met business leaders in Edinburgh.

Victoria Atkins
Will my hon. Friend encourage Scottish businesses to seize the opportunities of our new relationship with Europe and the wider world, including, of course, my own constituency of Louth and Horncastle? Will she urge the Scottish Government to support their businesses, stop moaning about referendums and get on with governing?

Margot James
I thank my hon. Friend, and I am happy to give that encouragement. The message that the UK Government have heard loud and clear is that businesses in Scotland want stability and not another divisive referendum. Talk of independence is disruptive. What people want now is the economic stability that can be provided only by Scotland remaining in the UK.

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Stuart C. McDonald
12. In July, the party leader of the Secretary of State told the BBC:“I want to stay in the single market, even if the consequence of that is maintaining free movement of labour.”Ruth Davidson was 100% correct, so can the Secretary of State explain the shoddy U-turn? [907329]

Margot James
There was no U-turn whatever on that. The UK Government will seek the best possible deal for all parts of the United Kingdom. That will include limits on free movement and the best possible access to, and trade within, the single market for British companies.

Ian C. Lucas (Wrexham) (Lab)
The creative industries in Scotland are one of the most successful areas of Scottish business, but there is real concern about the regulatory regime that Ofcom presides over and about what the future relationship with the European Union will look like. What discussions has the Minister had concerning that regulatory regime?

Margot James
My ministerial colleagues in the Department for

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Mr Alistair Carmichael (Orkney and Shetland) (LD)
In the Northern Isles some of our most important exporting businesses are in the very successful food and drink sector, but representatives of the sector tell me that it is almost impossible for them to plan for their future until they know what access they will have to EU markets. Will the Minister ensure that their voices are heard in these negotiations, as well as those of the big boys in financial services and the automotive industries?

Margot James
My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has regular meetings with representatives of the Scottish fishing industry and the agricultural sector, and Ministers throughout the Government engage in many discussions with representatives of the Scotch Whisky Association about how they can continue to build on the strengths of their exports beyond the EU as well as within the single market.

Margaret Ferrier (Rutherglen and Hamilton West) (SNP)
During a live televised debate two days before the Brexit vote, Scottish Tory leader Ruth Davidson said that the EU provided “a level playing field” for small businesses, and that if the UK were to leave the EU, the rest of the EU would impose tariffs and taxes. Will the Minister please tell us how many of the 1.2 million jobs provided by small and medium-sized enterprises in Scotland she estimates will be at risk from those tariffs and taxes once they come into force?

Margot James
As I have said, the Government are committed to gaining maximum access to the single market and trade within it for all British companies, and that includes Scottish SMEs.

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