Press release

UK must become an export powerhouse if economy is to rebound from Covid trade shock

UK must become an export powerhouse if economy is to rebound from Covid trade shock
Enterprise Nation
Enterprise Nation
Enterprise Nation

Posted: Wed 22nd Mar 2023

A new report has found that if UK exports had rebounded as strongly as Germany's following the pandemic, it would be exporting $111bn more than is currently the case.

And the Access All Areas: Markets report from small business support platform Enterprise Nation and The Entrepreneurs Network found that even if the UK had simply kept pace with other G7 countries, it would be exporting $65bn more.

The study urges the government to unleash an SME entrepreneurial export boom and tackle the issues that prevent SMEs from exporting such as cost, complexity and lack of skills, through a series of recommendations including trialling Export Vouchers, broadening Government-backed business curriculum, simplifying information and doing more to raise awareness of the funds available from the UK Export Finance (UKEF).

It also heralds the launch of an intensive private sector-backed initiative to support more SMEs to export and grow. Over the next 12 months, the Enterprise Nation Go Global scheme aims to offer targeted guidance to 100,000 SMEs, supported by leading international banking firm Santander.

The programme aims to unlock the global ambition of SMEs and smaller businesses with high quality resources, e-learning modules, trade events, mentoring and advice tailored to support growing businesses.

Eamonn Ives, head of research at The Entrepreneurs Network and report author, said: "International trade represents a world of opportunities for Britain's SME community, with evidence showing how effective it can be in boosting their productivity. But, as we heard time and again from Britain's entrepreneurs throughout this research, importers and exporters face a thicket of challenges - from complex regulations to costly tariffs.

"Even when the Government lends a helping hand, support can be confusing and piecemeal. The recent fusion of business and trade into one single department is a promising step forwards - and Kemi Badenoch must be unstinting in championing Britain's entrepreneurs whose ambitions go beyond our own borders."

Emma Jones, CBE, founder of Enterprise Nation, said: "Export must be a major focus of the Government's growth strategy. Unlike other G7 economies, the UK has fallen behind in its export ambitions.

"We must reignite the UK's appetite to export and ensure that Britain's SMEs have the best conditions possible to flourish on the international stage.

"We know that exporting, whether it be a product or a digital service, is a key driver of productivity and growth. For example, firms that export introduce more innovation and develop more products. We must ensure SMEs have all the information, support and skills they need to join the dots and see exporting for what it is - a clear route to growth.

"This report sets out how the Government can support a new age of exporting."

John Carroll, Head of International & Transactional Banking, Santander UK said: "In our most recent Trade Barometer (released last week), 59% of internationally trading companies reported improved performance over the past year compared to just 46% of those which do business solely in the UK. It's clear international trade is a significant growth driver and the fastest route to recovery for businesses that have been up against challenge after challenge in recent years.

"I'm delighted to be working with Enterprise Nation on the Go Global initiative. We have already supported over a thousand businesses into a new market overseas since 2019 and I firmly believe that our unique international network, together with the knowledge and expertise of our teams, can make a real difference to many more, as well as the wider UK economy."

The report found the economic benefits of exporting extend beyond productivity. Survey evidence of SMEs across 33 European countries found that SMEs which export are more than three times as likely to introduce new products or services than those which do not.

Import and export are key drivers of productivity and growth. Figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) show UK businesses which declare international trade in goods can be around a fifth more productive on average than similar firms which are non-traders, even when you factor in firm size, industry and ownership status.

Milton Keynes-based Keisha Shah exports resources from her children's educational brand Teddo Play all over the world, but she described starting out as a "learning curve."

Keisha said: "I had to dedicate time to learn about the different regulations, customs requirements and so on." Another initial challenge was the cost of delivery, especially to individual customers, rather than B2B sales.

"It was a massive strain on the business as I tried to absorb the delivery costs making it attractive for international customers, she added.

But despite that, Keisha lists a number of positive effects -- from an expanded customer base (and a more diverse one at that, with reduced reliance on a single market), to improved competitiveness as she can exploit greater economies of scale.

Download the report.


Notes to editors

Made in the UK, Sold to the World, the government's 12-point export plan, was published back in 2021, it committed to lifting the value of exports to £1 trillion a year by working to support exporters, achieve access to new markets, and campaign for British businesses abroad. But it has yet to bear fruit.

The report suggests five key recommendations:

  • Champion free trade and British businesses at every level from the top down

  • Perhaps the single best thing the government can do to support SMEs in terms of trading internationally is to consistently champion the notion of free trade itself on the global stage. The Government should be unstinting in its promotion of Britain as a market to do business with

  • Improve the information available to SMEs who are interested in exporting

  • The government should consult closely with entrepreneurs and business organisations to get a better understanding of what SMEs find confusing about the current situation with regards to information on exporting in particular

  • Ensure UKEF is working as well as it can be for SMEs

  • Double down on improving marketing and spread the message to more SMEs about the potential for UKEF to assist them in exporting. Ensure Ministers within BaT regard this as their responsibility

  • Trial an Export Tax Credit or 'Export Vouchers' to incentivise more exporting among SMEs

  • Explore Export Tax credit or Export Vouchers to reduce the financial risk firms can incur when starting their export journey, in return for higher growth in the long term

  • Evolve Help to Grow: Management courses to equip as many business leaders with exporting skills as possible

  • Former DIT officials should be proactive in talking to officials overseeing Help to Grow: Management, to ensure that any participating small business which expresses a strong interest in exporting more has all the support they need to fulfil their potential

About Enterprise Nation

Enterprise Nation is a business support platform and provider delivering support to more than 750,000 small businesses a year. Its aim is to help people turn their good ideas into great businesses -- through expert advice (including a comprehensive resources library), events, acceleration support and networking.   Enterprise Nation was founded in 2005 by British entrepreneur Emma Jones CBE, also co-founder of national enterprise campaign StartUp Britain.

She is author of best-selling business books and is a frequently called-on and regular media commentator on a range of issues which affect the UK's growing number of SMEs. 

About The Entrepreneurs Network

The Entrepreneurs Network is a think tank for Britain's most ambitious entrepreneurs. We support entrepreneurs by:

  • Producing cutting-edge research into the best policies to support entrepreneurship;

  • Campaigning for policy changes that will help entrepreneurship flourish;

  • Hosting regular events to bridge the gap between entrepreneurs and policymakers;

  • Updating entrepreneurs on how policy changes will impact their business;

  • Making the case in the media for entrepreneurs' contributions to society.

Enterprise Nation
Enterprise Nation
Enterprise Nation
Enterprise Nation has helped thousands of people start and grow their businesses. Led by founder, Emma Jones CBE, Enterprise Nation connects you to the resources and expertise to help you succeed.

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