Govt export plans 'must support small firms'

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Plans to increase UK exports must support smaller firms, the FSB has argued

The Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) has reacted to the government's new approach to boosting British exports in the years to come.

Based on data from the FSB's Small Business Index for Q4 2015, the body showed that almost one-quarter (24 per cent) of the nation's small to medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) are already exporting their goods and services overseas, while almost one in ten (nine per cent) have demonstrated an upturn in activity during the last three months.

It is therefore imperative that the government places SMEs at the heart of its new proposals to bolster exports for the country as a whole, with a transformed UK Trade and Investment (UKTI) that will focus more closely on individual markets and sectors.

The aim of the move is to provide a more coordinated approach to helping businesses expand their operations to other countries, while at the same time bringing together the best in private sector experience to develop targeted export campaigns that will bolster demand for goods and services that the UK can easily provide.

As part of the shift in approach, UKTI will locate sector experts in other mainstream government departments during the early part of 2016 and these individuals will then leverage their specialist knowledge to promote growth in exports across a specific domain.

Departmental ministers responsible for wider policies for their industry sector will then oversee the development and delivery of sector-specific export plans.

FSB national chairman John Allan commented: "As ministers implement the new strategy, we urge them to embed the need to support small businesses and first-time exporters in each department's new export plan. The refresh of UKTI's digital offering will be key to improving access to the best information and advice.

"FSB will support and promote moves to engage with the UK small business community. All plans should be well-marketed and robustly monitored if the government's targets of increasing the value of exports to £1 trillion and achieving 100,000 new exporters are to be met."

He added that the FSB remains pleased that the government is keen to improve the nation's export performance, but the decision to refocus UKTI's role and to make exports a priority across government departments must lead to better support for small firms and first-time exporters if it is to be deemed a success.