Call to halt SME exports decline

Richard Wright, Executive Director, Sheffield Chamber of Commerce & Industry.
Richard Wright, Executive Director, Sheffield Chamber of Commerce & Industry.
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The Government has been urged to provide increased support to help small and medium sized businesses improve export levels after new data showed a slowing down in orders for the services sector.

Sheffield Chamber of Commerce called on Philip Hammond to use his forthcoming Autumn Statement to provide resource and money to support SME export delivery plans.

Data published in the latest British Chambers of Commerce (BCC)/DHL Quarterly International Trade Outlook indicated that uncertainty following the vote to leave the European Union is diminishing export orders and experts, at the

chamber said the balance of businesses in the sector expecting an improvement in sales and orders having fallen to the lowest level in five years.

The results show that exports are expected to grow at a slower pace in the coming months, and confidence in turnover and profitability has also fallen in the medium term.

It also showed a greater proportion of manufacturers enjoying an improved export performance compared with the second quarter, with some benefiting from sterling’s recent fall. This is also replicated in an improvement to the sector’s future orders.

Richard Wright, executive director of Sheffield Chamber, said: “The BCC is calling on the government to use the Autumn Statement to increase resources to directly support SME export plans, providing direct monetary support for firms to explore new markets or deepen sales abroad.

“We’re adding the city business region to this call as we are disappointed by the results and believe they are rooted in the UK’s inability to support businesses to export properly.

“The growth in exports for the whole country is not good enough and Sheffield City Region is at the bottom of the league tables with respect to year on year and quarter on quarter changes.

“We are trading at a massive deficit and building debt and this must be our greatest long term worry as a nation and locally.

“The Government and public sector have spent millions of pounds on export support over many years which have failed to show sufficient return on investment. We believe that is because export support schemes are too often a million miles away from commercially-led objectives. They are box-ticking, process-driven activities that focus on the wrong areas.”

Nick Patrick, International Trade Manager at South Yorkshire International Trade Centre added: “Businesses don’t measure how often a trade representative comes to see them or even how many times they do a training course.

“They need direct introductions to customers who have live enquiries for their products and they can quote and turn into orders. What SMEs need are agents abroad but they can’t afford to employ them, although are prepared to pay on results.”

Polyseam Ltd has a business strategy to grow international sales around the world, reducing their reliance on national and European markets. They were introduced by the Chamber to a number of GBNs and have been working with them since to identify markets and generate enquiries for their products.

Neil Smith, International Sales Director of Polyseam Ltd added: “In the past two years our export activity has increased from 25 per cent to 70 per cent of sales. A big part of this is due to the support of the BCC Global Business Network.”