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UK must focus on export support

·         BCC’s Director General, John Longworth, gives keynote speech at business group’s International Trade Conference

·         Vince Cable; Chuka Umunna; Carolyn McCall, CEO, easyJet; David Milner, CEO Tyrrells Crisps; and Lord Bilamoria, Chairman, Cobra Beer confirmed as guest speakers

The British Chambers of Commerce’s annual International Trade Conference takes place in London today, bringing together high-profile business leaders, SMEs and politicians to debate ways to drive international growth.  In his speech, Director General, John Longworth, will discuss why it is so important for the UK to aim for truly great economic growth, and why more support for exporters is crucial to driving a lasting recovery.

Full conference speech below

“There is no question in my mind that the UK economy is improving.

“As a leading forecaster on the economy, the British Chambers of Commerce predicted 1.3% growth this year, 2.2% next year and 2.5% in 2015.  I am pleased to see that the International Monetary Fund have now caught up with us and produced a similar figure for 2013.

“Of course, all of this is dependent on no external shocks.

“We have this week been on the edge of a precipice given the US debt crisis. A US default would have been very disruptive, given that the dollar is the reserve currency. We are not yet out of woods with this temporary respite. We also still have the house of cards called the Eurozone just next door. And then there is the Middle East and the uncertainty which that brings.

“All things being equal however, we do have good growth in prospect. Just good growth, when we could have truly, great growth.

“We should be aiming for north of 3%, and why not?

“We have all the talent, the enterprise, the know-how and the creativity we need for a truly great economy.  But to really utilise this, we need an environment that supports enterprise, and that means not just any old growth, but the right kind of growth, for a long term, sustainable and wealth creating economy.

“We don’t want to see, once again, the body being resuscitated and on the life support of consumer borrowing and spending, just so those businesses that are distant or divorced from the national interest and the vested interests of Whitehall, can suck out the life blood until we have another national, cardiac arrest.

“The Prime Minister has talked about the vital need to rebalance the economy. Part of that rebalancing is towards exports. If we are to succeed in this vital task and contribute towards positive growth, we need to have, in the UK, the bedrock for recovery, so that businesses can do business.

“We need to make sure that enterprises, not just large businesses, have access to finance, to grow and fulfil orders, not least from overseas. We need the vital infrastructure to move goods, to do business and to communicate – roads and railways; hub airport connectivity and seaports; digital infrastructure, a long term energy security strategy – to ensure a dependable energy supply at least cost and not just a peripheral, green energy policy.  We also need knowledge and skills in our people.

“We are an 80% service sector economy and a 10% high value manufacturing economy.  We are a knowledge based economy.

“All of these things are vital for a balanced economy and vital if we are to boost exports.

“But we also need a direct focus on export support if we are to be amongst the best in the world.  We need to make no bones about government and business working together in this area.

“For all these reasons, this is an exciting day!

“For the first time we are at the start of a journey to develop a truly business led, end to end,  business to business support network, to provide practical assistance to small, medium and large businesses who want to export for the first time, or who are already exporting and want to try new markets. Crucially, it has been embraced by the British Chambers network, at home and overseas.

“Make no mistake, the task is heroic. The Prime Minister has committed to increase UK exports to one trillion pounds a year by 2020. Exports will need to increase at 9% year on year, every year. The work of the Chambers will be in the vanguard of support for this task.  This work will be key to the step change in outputs.

“It is even more heroic when we consider that our family of Chambers is being asked to provide a supreme effort, with little resource.

“The whole of UK spending on trade support is just £317 million of which export support receives around £236 million. The government spends 25 times as much of taxpayers’ money on overseas aid as it does on export support!  This is a sliver of a morsel of GDP, a rounding error at just 0.02%. Grossly underfunded by comparison with competitor nations.

“But even this is not the budget for our ambitious step change programme for UK exports. This endeavour, our Chamber programme, has a budget of just £20 million over two years, across all the markets and in the UK.

“By contrast the Germans provided state funding to their overseas Chambers to the tune of €57 million last year and their State backed Business Bank pumped over €60 billion of funding into their SME sector, free of State aid rules.

“We don’t want to follow the German model.  We want to deliver our step change, better, simpler and cheaper, but the contrast is stark!

“In Accredited Chambers of Commerce we are used to doing amazing things with very little resource.

“This is a task that the Chamber family is up for. It is what we do; it is what we are about.

“A task made easier by:

·         our committed business members and supporters;

·         by the globally respected Chamber brand;

·         by some valued colleagues in the Foreign Office and UKTI;

·         fellow business organisations such as the CBBC, UKIBC.

“Most of all by the commitment and dedication of Chamber colleagues in the UK and around the globe.

“But this project must be for the long term, for five years and beyond. It will, in my view, require more funding. It will require cross party support. And we at the BCC aim to ensure that this message is heard loud and clear.

“It is a privilege to see you all here today, businesses from all around the UK, British Chambers from the UK and around the globe, partner organisations, business groups and government officials.

“We have a great line up for this conference.   Enjoy your day!”