On Monday 26 October, The ICAEW held a roundtable discussion for members with an interest in exports. The event gave them the opportunity to engage and hear from the new Minister of State for Trade and Investment, Rt. Hon Lord Maude.
Stephen Ibbotson kicked-off by welcoming Lord Maude and introducing ICAEW as an organisation whose members advise over 1.5 million businesses across the UK and explained that accountants are the second biggest source of export advice -thereby making ICAEW an important stakeholder for Government.
In his opening remarks, the Minister said that entrepreneurs around the world now considered the UK a great place to set-up business but that a renewed emphasis on boosting exports was needed if the UK was to successfully address its trade deficit over the coming years. Lord Maude argued that the whole of Government should contribute to the push towards increasing exports and that UKTI and UKEF needed to remain flexible, innovative and open-minded in their approach to supporting businesses. It was agreed that private sector advisers should continue to play a leading role in advising businesses wishing to compete abroad and that this should be complemented by a more commercially aware UKTI. Lord Maude mentioned that BIS was looking at how agencies similar to UKTI were operating in EU countries and would draw on best practice examples to better tailor UKTI services.
The Minister argued that the “UK brand” was highly regarded around the world and that the business community and the Government should work hand-in hand to continue to promote it.
What ensued was a free-flowing conversation between delegates, the Minister and UKTI and UKEF officials. Delegates from SMEs argued that they valued the work of Government in supporting them but that more needed to be done to lower the risk associated with exporting. The Minister stressed that he was particularly interested in promoting highvalue exports and that part of this would be achieved not only by getting first time exporters to start exporting but also by ensuring that existing exported continued to expand their overseas operations. Both the Minister and delegates argued that the Government was good at delivering big infrastructure trade deals but that trade delegations could do more to support SMEs doing business abroad and ensuring companies that export continue to do so.
The support made available to e-commerce companies was identified by a number of delegates as a weak point in the Government’s current framework. The Minister took this point on board and argued that whilst a lot of progress had been made in terms of digitalisation of Government services more needed to be done.
UKEF argued that the agency’s role was primarily to complement the private sector and that peer-to-peer support should play a greater role in the push to export more. UKEF underlined the fact that the majority of its senior management was from the private sector and that it was therefore well-equipped to deal with the needs of businesses. However UKEF’s representative argued private banks’ decisions to lend was out of their control and remained a critical factor in enabling companies to export more. This was echoed by delegates running SMEs who highlighted the difficulty in accessing finance and also the complexity of the process.
To conclude the Minister thanked ICAEW and the delegates for their feedback and input and said he would be looking to follow-up on the ideas that were expressed at the meeting.