Chuka Umunna leads Labour attacks on government export initiatives as Export Week gets underway

Shadow business secretary claims Tory-led schemes ‘have not helped a single firm’

The Labour party has launched an attack on the coalition government’s attempts to boost exports this week, with shadow business secretary Chuka Umunna claiming its initiatives have failed to help a single firm.

In a series of tweets and a press release, Umunna said the government had ‘failed’ in its promise to spearhead an export-led recovery, and claimed ministers were ‘badly letting down British business’.

Umunna pointed to the Office of Budget Responsibility (OBR)’s latest report as evidence of his claim, which showed a ‘sharp fall’ in exports in the last quarter of 2013 (at page 78 of the report) and forecast a small negative contribution of net international trade to growth across 2014 – reflecting what the report termed ‘weakness’ in export growth.

The shadow business secretary also said the government’s two flagship export schemes – the Export Refinancing Scheme and the Direct Lending Scheme – had ‘failed to have any impact whatsoever’.

Launched in July 2012, the £5bn Export Refinancing Scheme was expected to be up and running by the end of 2012, but Umunna claimed it was not even operational.

Additionally, he said the Direct Lending scheme had received only 15 enquiries and just one firm had put in an application for support under the initiative.

Labour’s attacks come as UK Trade and Investment (UKTI)’s latest Export Week gets underway – a week-long programme of events which aims to get 100,000 more companies exporting by 2020.

Labour said the claims would cause ‘embarassment’ for government ministers ahead of the event.

Umunna said the government’s sceptical approach to remaining in the EU was to blame for the disappointing growth in exports, and claimed a Labour government would encourage further integration and trade within Europe.

Umunna said in a statement: “Ministers promised an export-led recovery, but the truth is that they are badly letting down British business. Scheme after scheme which were supposed to help more firms export have failed to have any impact whatsoever, and now we learn that two programmes which were announced to great fanfare two years ago haven’t helped a single firm.

“We desperately need to get more businesses exporting to boost middle-income jobs, grow our way out of the cost-of-living crisis and so we can ensure Britain can compete. As we’ve seen with so many of the Tory-led government’s promises, they have completely failed to deliver.

“Where this government has failed, the next Labour government will boost exports, innovation and investment as part of Agenda 2030, our plan for better-balanced, sustainable growth.”

Responding to Ummuna’s claims, a government spokesman told the BBC that measures were announced in the Budget that would make both programmes “more accessible” to small firms and help them to “realise their export potential”.

The chancellor George Osborne said in his Budget speech: “Yes, investment and exports are up.

“Our exports have grown each year and the OBR today forecast rising export growth in the future. Our combined goods exports to Brazil, India and China have risen faster than those of our competitors.

“But we’re starting from a low base and we’ve got many lost years to catch up.”

 

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