08th March 2017 – Contribution by Lord Waverley
My Lords, this Question encourages the Government to share their thoughts on this important subject. There will be other opportunities as we prepare for completion of the Brexit negotiations, but we need to start a process now to prepare for the time when we leave the European Union. I thank all noble Lords speaking this evening. Sensing contributions of an international nature, I will restrict my remarks more to the situation as I see it within our country.
I declare that I am the founder of SupplyFinder.com, a powerful multipurpose network of active business opportunities and information across 195 countries in 25 sectors and 11 languages. It is a comprehensive website, three years in development.
The United Kingdom is embarking on an ambitious new journey, for which we must prepare and manage carefully. Addressing the export promotion needs of our devolved regions and England will lead to employment growth and prosperity. Although a measure of uncertainty has been removed, many challenges remain. It therefore cannot be business as usual; rather, we must tackle these difficulties with clarity of vision, determination and renewed vigour.
We will succeed in increasing exports if we place increased emphasis on tolerance, respect and the well-being of all our people, all pulling together. Our country thrives in times of great adversity. We keep calm and carry on, stoically British.
Now the task is more nuanced. We must be outward-looking and positive as a nation, dispensing with negativity and adopting a can-do attitude. Not only are we called upon to be resilient, we also must be entrepreneurial, seeking and capitalising on every opportunity. Let us embrace the vital contribution of women in society and business. Let us relish our extraordinary multicultural diversity. These are the strengths that form the bedrock of our 21st century society, the pillars helping to define and unite us as a nation. “UK first, in a spirit of partnership with existing and new friends”, should be our mantra.
An early question for Government is, “What do they consider to be their best role?”. Government must share the burden and understand where their strengths lie to succeed in increasing exports. Should the Government fulfil a B2B role, or might it be better to outsource these activities and focus on B2G and, of course, G2G—Government to Government? Their core mission should be to strengthen links between private sector and public sector, creating the right environment to allow for the private sector to succeed as equal partners.
Taxpayer money can be better channelled through partnerships with the private sector. It is essential, however, that the Government support business confidence, particularly if there is any short-term economic downturn. The French and German Governments proactively support their exporters, while our UK private sector is often left to fend for itself. The primary responsibility is to create the right environment for the private sector to thrive. Would the Government consider incentives, such as tax breaks and allowances to support British exporters?
Government must enhance the business capabilities of the Civil Service and consider an urgent and transparent root-and-branch reform to meet the challenges of the future. In addition, Government must ensure that export finance is available where there is traction from our exporters to popular and even sometimes risky markets.
What are realistic levels of export values and numbers of new exporters? Indeed, how are we to measure success? Understanding this would help devise policy. The Government’s recent Green Paper, Building Our Industrial Strategy, is a good starting point, a road map to reach a destination. Questions then arise: by whom, to where, and by when? Generally, there are insufficient data on which to gauge the efficiency of business support performance. Estimates of the current number of exporters vary widely. It needs to be decided whether manufacturing will regain its prominence, and if so, which aspects. This sector requires strategic thinking and clarity to address varying needs of airport expansion, energy generation and the future of the foundation industries that underpin manufacturing. Government should move more quickly and use this network to create access into new markets, helping with market intelligence and research, increasing awareness of business opportunities and enabling ease of access for SMEs. The Overseas Business Network initiative has so far delivered. The Prime Minister’s trade envoys are excellent. Both should be recognised and supported further, particularly into new markets.
It is essential that all stakeholders are around the table and playing an active role. Business needs a simple and, ideally, a single route to advice and support. Digital routes exist, but business prefers to speak to a person. This is where multipliers, approved chambers of commerce and the trade association movement come into play. Their B2B contributions are a great strength. I think I am right in saying, however, that there is no single central list of trade associations in the UK. That needs to be resolved. Some will rightly ask, “What of funding? What of resources?”. Solutions could be found. For example, part of the fees for each company registering with Companies House could be given to a nominated chamber and association. This would generate beneficial multipliers to improve services. Competition would dictate to which nominated multiplier these funds would go. Companies would attach themselves ideally to one chamber and one association. These B2B activities should then be marshalled to ensure maximum impact on opportunity.
Government should support more mini fast-in, fast-out missions as well as the big set pieces. They should insist that all applications for public funds, whether small business support grants or major infrastructure proposals, be weighted by the contribution each makes to the nation’s exporting capability. They should develop a comprehensive package of trade missions over the next three years to introduce both new and experienced businesses to new markets and to generate new trade and project the positive GB message that we are an outward-looking nation reaping benefits from Brexit.
Sector trade also must be promoted by the creation of hubs manned principally by the private sector, centres of excellence, properly supported and funded to facilitate the needs of exporters. The UK has a comprehensive national and local network of chambers as well as an overseas network and is a trusted international brand that opens doors. These all need to be developed as vital resources. Figures suggest that in the past, one in five SMEs exported. Has that increased? Do the Government have a target level? Gone are the days when the world would come knocking. Business must get out into the field, understanding local culture and local rules.
The challenge is how to get them out there. Encouraging joint ventures or dependable partnerships would seem a useful way forward. There are plenty of initiatives in the offing, but we need to be innovative in our thinking, make things happen.
Yesterday I offered introductory remarks to the New Silk Road Forum. The Iranian ambassador gave a keynote speech. Opportunities abound for UK business interests, but we need to get a move on.
What might the UK reasonably expect to achieve in future trade agreements, and over what period of time? That is a general question which I will not develop this evening. I have focused on policy but time does not permit me to address FTAs, other than to wish the noble Baroness and the noble Lord, Lord Price, well.
I will say a very quick word about the events industry, an industry of paramount importance and one which requires support. It attracts 9 million visitors and, on average, 170 exhibitors for each show. Internationally, just 20 UK-based organisers create 1,049 events outside the UK. UK shows can be used to secure an international position for the UK. Challenges include the need to ease entry. Health and safety and data issues also require attention.
We are in a fast-moving world of differing geopolitical and geo-economic alliances. This is a call to action. We are on the starter blocks of a long journey, poised for the off. The prize: a successful global Britain, a critical link to an interconnected world, a vital hub for international commerce and increased exports. Let us make it happen.
Link to full contribution: http://bit.ly/2wpfwMg