The founder of Seven Investment Management says the government and banks are not giving enough support
Again about rebalancing the economy, we have heard from the coalition that this was going to be an export-led recovery and that we were going to see the ‘march of the makers’. Well maybe not in the way we had been anticipating it, but maybe something on these lines seems to be happening. Certainly manufacturing as mentioned above has been rising, but the latest figures on exports from the UK shows them at their highest level since 2007.
The British Chambers of Commerce have an Index (BCC/DHL Export index) which is calculated on the volume of export documents being issued to businesses. This rose by 2.85% over the last quarter and is higher than the same period last year. However, they are still feeling constricted. Bank credit is mentioned as a key issue, but more than that, the point I have come across is a woeful lack of international trade financing and banking expertise within the banks themselves. And then, where they do exist, it is merely in a head office specialist area divorced completely from the exporters themselves.
I appreciate the need for economies of scale and concentrating the expertise, but there are always business hotspots for exporters – especially around the business parks. It is here you need the expertise to help guide the businesses in the complications of how to export effectively, safely and withn the right financing. This is not just a ‘money’ issue but the technical knowledge and understanding of documentary letters of credit, bills of lading and even export credit guarantee facilities both here and overseas are fundamental. You don’t need a polite banking salesman for that!
What has been disappointing though has been the lack of further export expansion given the weakness of the Pound over the past few years. I am pleased to see that at last the politicians are out there encouraging trade missions to key countries however, far more needs to be done. Obviously there is much to be done with our close neighbours within the EU, but with the Eurozone still languishing that is not going to be easy.
However, the UK has one fantastic advantage over our competitors. We belong to a global club which has some strong natural affiliations and ties – including quite often language, law and accounting – and some even share our head of state. This of course is the Commonwealth consisting of 54 nations with 2.2 billion people – which is almost a third of the world’s population.
If ever there was a ‘unique selling point’ for UK industry this has to be it!
Justin Urquhart Stewart is the founder of Seven Investment Management and a regular media commentator. Originally trained as a lawyer, he has observed the retail market industry for 30 years whilst in corporate banking and stockbroking.
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