Exports soar 77 per cent in Sheffield

Exports through Sheffield Chamber of Commerce leapt 77 per cent last year - sparking a visit from the head of a national commission which aims to tackle the UK’s 30-year trade deficit.

From left: Ashley Shackleton, British Chambers of Commerce, Nick Patrick, SYITC; Beth Barber-Atkinson, 512 (Sheffield); Graham Cole, Agusta Westland UK, Mark Tomlinson; Sheffield Forgemasters, Shaun Litchfield, Micon Components, Dan Stephenson, Pryor Marking Technology and Steven Todd of Micon Components.

South Yorkshire International Trade Centre, part of the Chamber, handled £63.8m exports in the first quarter, up from £35.9m in the same period in 2014.

Graham Cole, chairman of AgustaWestland UK, visited to gain an insight into what needs to be done to hit a target of £1tr annual exports by 2020. The Cole Commission is set to publish its findings in June.

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UK exports are £636bn annually, well below the £1tr target set by the Chancellor in 2012. The British Chambers of Commerce says there is a ‘mountain to climb’ if the goal is to be met.

Mark Lythe and Debbie Harrison of Pricecheck Toiletries in Sheffield. The firm won a Queen's Award for Export last month.

Exports boost economic growth, create jobs and help rebalance the nation’s current account deficit.

Nick Patrick, head of South Yorkshire International Trade Centre, said: “I would like to think South Yorkshire is pulling its weight and contributing to the £1tr target.

“We are perhaps one of the most active chambers in the country for international trade, that’s why Graham Cole came here.

“The only way we are going to fix the balance of payments is when money from overseas companies goes into British companies’ bank accounts.”

Mark Lythe and Debbie Harrison of Pricecheck Toiletries on shipping containers in the car park at their Sheffield premises.

The British Chamber of Commerce set up an Overseas Business Network initiative to encourage exports. In South Yorkshire, some 176 people from 143 companies have met 22 overseas business people who have visited Sheffield since June 2014. The BCC Overseas Business Network covers 41 high growth markets and SYITC’s aim is to get all of them to Sheffield in 2015.

Nick Patrick added: “We help companies with training documentation, help them find a suitable market and introduce them to people.

“We hold their hand all the way to the point where they are ready to start exporting, then we hand them over to my counterpart in that country. The problem is, it’s not being done widely enough.

“Based on recent reports the £1tr target is probably going to be impossible.

“I think they have to make fundamental changes more like the German system, there it is compulsory for a registered company to be a member. The cost of membership for a small company to join their local chamber is extremely inexpensive, but they will benefit from general business advice and export advice.

“Many of the small companies I visit are completely unaware of the help their local chamber can offer. If they were told they had to join a chamber we would be on the way to solving the problem.

“There are companies who have no intention to export but one day their biggest customers won’t be there because an overseas rival is not only making the same product cheaper but it is more innovative because the boss has been travelling the world, looking at what his competition is making.

“I urge bosses to go to one trade fair overseas a year. They will meet competition, learn prices and learn what rivals are doing to their products - and they might meet someone who wants to buy their product.”

On his visit to Sheffield, Graham Cole attended a meeting with five Yorkshire chambers of commerce, the University of Sheffield and representatives from five local firms: Micon Components, Sizer, 5-1-2 (Sheffield), Pryor Marking Technology and Sheffield Forgemasters.

Nick Patrick added: “Mr Cole told us it was ‘really helpful’ to talk to the Chambers and ‘real’ companies - and added that he left encouraged with the relevance of the Commission’s report and determined to drive through the changes proposed.”

The Cole Commission report will be published in June, after the general election, to be implemented by the new government.

The interim report is available via: http://www.thecolecommission.org/