UKTI chief: Yorkshire needs coherent voice to win over investors

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YORKSHIRE needs to have compelling and coherent voice if it wants to “blow the socks off” international investors, according to the new head of UK Trade and Investment.

Speaking at The Yorkshire Post Business Club, Dominic Jermey said he did not subscribe to league tables from accountancy firm EY that placed the region at the bottom of the pile for foreign direct investment in Britain.

Dominic Jermey, chief executive of UK Trade and Investment. Pictures by James Hardisty

Dominic Jermey, chief executive of UK Trade and Investment. Pictures by James Hardisty

He said UKTI sees Yorkshire as being home to strong inward investors employing thousands of people.

Mr Jermey told the audience that as a national body, the Government agency has a UK-first policy rather than trying to drive investors to any particular region.

He said the UK is the most attrative destination for inward investment in Europe “by a long trot” because of its corporation tax rate, stable political environment, timezone, skills base and education sector.

“That’s the headline sell,” he said, during his first official visit to Yorkshire.

The audience at The Yorkshire Post Business Club

The audience at The Yorkshire Post Business Club

“Underneath that, we have different parts of the country competing for that investment.

“What tends to swing it for investors will be the ability of the local business community and agencies to speak with a really compelling, coherent voice about what it is about their area that can really blow your socks off.”

Mr Jermey visited a foreign-owned company in Yorkshire earlier in the day and said it was attracted by an “ecosystem” which allowed it to purchase everything it needed from the area.

He was appointed chief executive of UKTI in August after nearly 20 years in the Foreign Office, most recently as Ambassador to the United Arab Emirates.

Dominic Jermey

Dominic Jermey

His previous postings include Madrid, Afghanistan, Thailand, East Timor, the Balkans and Pakistan.

Mr Jermey started his career in the City at the investment bank Schroders, specialising in European mergers and acquisitions.

At UKTI, he is responsible for driving exports and attracting foreign investors to Britain.

In response to a question about the role that the monarchy could play in selling British business, Mr Jermey said it can help British companies win contracts.

Networking at The Yorkshire Post Business Club

Networking at The Yorkshire Post Business Club

He told the audience about an event this March to promote British creative, architectural and new media expertise in Shanghai at which Prince William will appear.

Mr Jermey said: “That is absolutely priceless. If you do it in a way that captures the magic and stardust around a member of the royal family and it absolutely no way demeans the brand because what is special about the royal family is that amazing brand that nobody else has got in the world then it can have an enormous impact on business success.”

During his posting at UAE, he said the embassy was able to close numerous bilateral business deals in the lead-up to a short visit by the Queen.

He received 100 ministerial visits at UAE and business was on the agenda of each one, he added.

The Conservative-led coalition has tried to put exports at the heart of its efforts to rebalance the UK economy, but the trade deficit remains stubbornly high.

Labour claims that the Government will miss its own export targets by £330bn and has launched a review of how to better support export-led growth.

Asked about the outcome of the general election and how it might affect his work, Mr Jermey said: “The really nice thing about trade and investment is that there is a consensus that it is a really good thing you are generating jobs and investment in this country.

“Whatever the outcome, it is an opportunity for us as an organisation and for us with our partners to take a fresh look at what it is we are doing to see if there are ways we can do it better.”

Learn from others instead of the hard way

The trials and tribulations of novice exporters came under the spotlight at The Yorkshire Post Business Club.

Mimi Michaels, a customer services executive at testing group Intertek, said it is exciting for small businesses to go overseas, but they can find problems getting into those markets and cannot afford to lose products at customs.

“Because of that experience they withdraw from exporting which is such a great opportunity for them,” she added, asking the chief executive of UK Trade and Investment what could be done to help SMEs make those first steps.

Dominic Jermey said: “If buying a house is all about location, location, location, exporting is all about preparation, preparation, preparation and it’s about what understanding it is you are entering into long before your products get to port and you are making those distribution or sales agreements in the market you are heading towards.

“When you are going to the more challenging markets... you absolutely have to get guidance.”

He said UKTI’s advisors work with companies to help develop trade strategies and understand where they can find a market for their goods and services.

He added that peer-to-peer support is also important with experienced exporters able to offer anecdotes of their experiences and where they might have got their fingers burnt.

Mr Jermey said the Government and its network of embassies has tried to influence legal systems to make them UK friendly.

He said the United Arab Emirates adopted British standards certification in its building code which makes it a lot easier for British companies to compete for business in the country.

Sandy Needham, chief executive of West and North Yorkshire Chamber, said there is lots of funding available to help Yorkshire companies learn about export. The event was hosted with Chamber International.