Winderpower blasts lack of support for exporters

Winderpower's Jane Paley working on a generator at the firm's Pudsey facility
Winderpower's Jane Paley working on a generator at the firm's Pudsey facility
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An engineering firm recently praised by Chancellor George Osborne has criticised the lack of Government support available for boosting exports.

Winderpower called on the Government to provide tax relief to businesses looking to grow their international trade.

Group managing director Laurence MacKenzie also criticised Government-run UK Trade and Investment (UKTI) as not providing value for money.

It comes as research from BDO and the Institute of Mechanical Engineers (IMechE) showed a growing strength among Yorkshire’s exporting engineers.

The study showed more than four in 10 (44 per cent) of engineering firms trading globally generate over 80 per cent of their turnover from export.

Winderpower, which makes transformers and generator components, makes between £1m and £2m of its £17m turnover from international trade.

Mr MacKenzie told The Yorkshire Post securing overseas customers is “a really hard sell” for small and medium-sized manufacturers.

The significant costs of growing exports could be offset by tax relief, he said.

A scheme like the annual investment allowance, where firms can offset investment in equipment against their tax bill, could absorb some of those charges.

He said: “If I’m paying £500,000 of corporation tax a year, if the Government said to me, ‘we’ll knock that off by £50,000 for two years, so long as you can show you’re spending the money’, then that would make our job much, much easier.”

Winderpower has been “opportunistic” rather than structured in its approach to export growth, Mr MacKenzie said.

It has mainly developed through existing clients, such as UK contractors taking on projects abroad. It exports to the Middle East, Brazil, Jamaica and South Africa.

The support available from UKTI, the Government department responsible for boosting export, did not appear “value for money”, Mr Mackenzie said.

He said: “We’ve tried UKTI, haven’t been impressed at all with them.

“The starting point in the conversation was how much I was going to pay them. I didn’t get the sense that they understood the markets I would need to operate in.”

The UKTI adviser offered to make an introduction to the Saudi Arabian embassy for a fee of around £2,500, he said.

“I’m not sure that people who work in embassies are actually business people,” he said. “I didn’t get a lot of confidence that I was going to get value for money from it. That stopped me doing it.”

Mr MacKenzie said he would welcome support from other organisations with the right expertise, but there “isn’t a textbook” for engineering exports.

He said: “If you’re trying to export it can be a costly process, and it’ll be a long process.”

Mark Robson, UKTI Regional Director for UKTI Yorkshire and Humber, told The Yorkshire Post: “We are disappointed to hear that this company was unhappy with the service provided by UKTI and are happy to discuss any issues with the business concerned.”

He added: “UKTI offers a range of services to help companies across a range of sectors fulfil their export potential, from small businesses exporting for the first time, to established exporters.

“All of UKTI’s services are either free of charge or subsidised, representing excellent value for money.

Our staff and partners, including engineering sector specialists, working on the ground in every part of the UK and in more than 100 markets, have a unique ability to support and advise UK companies at home and abroad.”

The latest figures from the Office of National Statistics (ONS), published last month, showed a slight narrowing of the UK’s trade deficit.

Imports of goods outstripped exports by £10.1bn in March, down £700m from February.

Exports of goods rose by £300m to £23.7bn in March.

The ONS said this reflected a £400m rise in exports of manufactured goods, particularly materials and chemicals, and a £400m fall in imports.

What’s your experience of UKTI? Email naomi.rainey@ypn.co.uk