THE TRADE Minister has urged Yorkshire businesses to use the forthcoming Tour de France to “get our exports into higher gear”.
Lord Ian Livingston described this summer’s Grand Depart as “a once-in-a-decade opportunity”, which will attract “so many companies from so many countries” to Yorkshire.
He wants small and medium-sized businesses to use the sporting event to develop new trade links and help boost UK exports.
Yorkshire increased exports by seven per cent last year, compared to a national increase of one per cent, but the overall goods trade deficit has widened in recent months, fuelling fears that the UK economy is overly dependent on consumer spending.
Lord Livingston was in Leeds yesterday to launch the International Business Festival, a three-day event in July to showcase Yorkshire companies during the televised cycling race.
In an interview with The Yorkshire Post, he said: “Yorkshire is well known, but this adds another dimension to it.
“We saw that for the UK as a whole in the Olympics. I have seen huge change in the view of the branding of the UK and what it represents and I think Yorkshire can do the same.
“Congratulations to the team who got it to Yorkshire - there was huge competition.”
Welcome to Yorkshire, the tourist board led by Gary Verity, fought off rivals including Government-backed bid from Edinburgh to seal the deal in 2012.
Lord Livingston, who replaced Lord Stephen Green last December, said the UK is the number one destination for inward investment in Europe and highlighted the recent announcement by Siemens to develop a major manufacturing centre in East Yorkshire to develop turbines for the offshore wind industry.
He also welcomed investments by manufacturer BorgWarner, insurer Hiscox and sweet-maker Haribo in Yorkshire and claimed that the region is a “magnet for companies”.
But last year, analysis from accountancy firm Ernst & Young showed there had been a marked fall in foreign direct investment in Yorkshire since the coalition Government came to power and disbanded regional structures in favour of local enterprise partnerships.
Challenged about this, Lord Livingston dismissed the figures as unrepresentative and said: “I think we are seeing it come back.”
He said that despite public spending cuts, the Government has prioritised exports and UK Trade & Investment, the agency he heads, has made a huge effort to contact every medium-sized business in the UK and offer them help and advice on international trade.
“We are doing really well in terms of start-ups in the UK; we have got some great global brands, but the medium-sized companies don’t export as much as their German equivalents,” he said.
He pointed out that the UK is the sixth largest exporter in the world, but said British businesses must build on this position and increase exports further, not only to Europe but to the rest of the world, particularly fast-growing markets like China.
Lord Livingston said: “The message is... it’s amazing if you go for it what you get and that’s exactly what’s happened in Yorkshire with the Tour de France.”
The International Business Festival will run from July 2-4 at venues in Leeds, Sheffield, York and Harrogate with dedicated events for specific sectors and target markets.
Gary Verity, chief executive of Welcome to Yorkshire, said: “This is not just a bike race. It is a five-hour television advert around the globe for this county and and everything we do.”
He added: “One of the big things we have collectively is the Yorkshire brand. If Leeds or Sheffield or Bradford or anywhere else had gone for the Tour de France they would never have got it.”