The British Furniture Confederation (BFC) has welcomed the publication of the Government's export strategy, with an expressed hope that its words will be met with effective action.
Jonathan Hindle, chairman of the BFC, says: "I welcome the strategic approach that has been set out by the department in the export strategy. The concerns identified are the same ones that the BFC has found again and again, and so I hope this strategy marks a step-change in providing solutions. The BFC supports the ambition to make exports 35% of GDP - while it's always a risk for Government to put a number on targets, it hopefully means that action will be taken to meet it."
International Trade Secretary Dr Liam Fox MP launched the Government's Export Strategy on 21st August, setting out how it will boost UK exports through better use of its overseas network, new online tools and building an extensive business to business network.
The strategy states that last year £620b of goods and services exported by British companies accounted for 30% of the UK's GDP, representing a record high. However, the Department for International Trade estimates that 400,000 businesses believe they could export but do not. Fox set out the Government's long-term ambition to go further and increase total exports as a proportion of GDP to 35%.
The key elements of the strategy to support companies selling overseas are to: encourage and inspire more businesses to export; inform businesses by providing information, advice and practical assistance on exporting; connect UK businesses to overseas buyers, markets and each other; and ensure that businesses take full advantage of the £50b worth of export finance and insurance support from UK Export Finance.
An industry-wide survey identified many of the issues the department has now acknowledged. The survey found that 70% of companies which do not currently export have no plans to begin exporting in the next 12 months.
While Brexit is inspiring companies to look to new exporting markets such as America, Africa and India, the Department for International Trade (DIT) needs to be doing more to encourage and support SMEs to export. For instance, in the BFC's 2018 survey 33% of respondents listed ‘export support' as one of the best ways the Government could help their business grow.
The Government and DIT must therefore both improve and increase awareness of the services offered by DIT to help businesses new to exporting, states the BFC – yet is encouraged that that the export strategy acknowledges the past success of the Trade Access Programme (TAP), which provides grant funding for eligible businesses towards the costs of exhibiting at overseas trade shows, and is looking to build on this success.
"The Government is rightly placing itself at the heart of the solution by highlighting the work it needs to do to encourage more businesses to export, to provide more practical advice, and to provide the financial assurances which can make or break a deal," says Jonathan. "As an industry, we're very interested to learn more about how exemplar companies can join the network of Export Champions to share best practice - a crucial step in supporting SMEs into the export market.
"We must keep on reminding the Government of the importance of the furniture and furnishings industry to the economy. At nearly £17b and rising, it's a substantial growth industry for the UK, supporting over 327,000 jobs across 50,000 registered companies. Manufacturing of furniture and beds in Britain is one of the top three divisions driving manufacturing growth in the UK, with an output of over £11b, emanating from 8390 companies and employing 118,000 individuals."