July 30, 2013 12:03 am

£5bn scheme to boost exports attracts no takers

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A £5bn plan to support loans to foreign buyers of British exports has been panned after it emerged that not one business has yet been helped by the initiative, launched a year ago by the coalition.

Chuka Umunna, shadow business secretary, said the slow progress of the exports refinancing facility was a “huge disappointment”.

“Ministers like to talk about the global race but their failure is letting down businesses across Britain which are being held back from competing,” said Mr Umunna.

Ministers announced the scheme as part of their wider £50bn programme of “UK guarantees” designed to give greater certainty to major infrastructure projects.

The Treasury said in July 2012 that the “major” scheme would be up and running by the end of the year. It would support British exporters by ensuring that overseas buyers had the long-term funding they needed, it said.

The scheme had the support of employers and the CBI, the employers’ organisation, which had warned that British exporters had been losing out to competitors backed by rival governments.

But Michael Fallon, business minister, has admitted in a response to a parliamentary question by Labour that the parameters of the scheme are still being developed: “Therefore no businesses have yet received support through the facility.”

A spokeswoman for UK Export Finance, the state agency, said officials wanted to make sure the scheme complied with state aid rules and provided “good value for taxpayers”.

“In the meantime, UK Export Finance is providing considerable assistance to UK exporters through its existing facilities,” she said. “In 2012/13 UKEF provided £4.3bn of support to British firms.”

The failure of the initiative comes after the government’s previous export financing scheme was abandoned after having been used by only five companies – to support £2.9m of financing. That programme, called the “enterprise finance guarantee scheme”, offered loan guarantees for small exporters struggling to get bank financing.

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