Department for International Trade must drastically up its game to achieve ‘Global Britain’ ambitions
Poor prioritisation and resource allocation at the Department for International Trade has put UK’s ambitions to become a global trading nation after Brexit under threat, Maritime UK has said.
The umbrella body for the UK maritime sector, which will play a fundamental role in realising Britain’s post-Brexit goals, believes that Liam Fox’s department is in a worse state now that it was when it was first launched in July 2016.
According to Maritime UK, there are far too few industry experts working in the DIT and a lack of specialisation as important individuals are spread too thin across multiple roles. Poor distribution of resources for trade promotion means that the creative sector has 15 supporting staff and maritime – which contributes £40billion to the UK - today has just one full-time member of frontline staff, the body said.
The maritime sector moves 95% of Britain’s international trade, supporting nearly a million UK jobs (932,000) or one in every 33. It directly employs 185,000 people.
David Dingle CBE, Chairman of Maritime UK, said:
“One of the most concerning things is the imbalance between trade negotiation and trade promotion––two
activities that, as Sir Simon Fraser notes, should be able to be undertaken
“Though the DIT needs trade negotiators, cutting trade
promotion staff to hire those negotiators is to solve one problem by creating
another. There is also a lack of specialisation due to the division of
important individuals between different roles.
“Today, there is just one dedicated member of
frontline staff supporting the export of the UK’s world-leading maritime
products and services, from naval to superyachts, technical equipment and
professional services, to the strongest economies and the emerging economies of
the world. Meanwhile other sectors––the creative sector, for instance––have 15
people promoting them.
“That is not to say that we should not be dedicating
time and money to promoting our fantastic creative sector, but if the maritime
sector is to increase the £500 billion in trade that passes through our
ports––and it is committed to doing so––it needs at least equal support. We,
and countless other sectors, are falling victim to the lack of strategic vision
and ambition that seems to be rife in the Department for International Trade.”
Ben Murray, Director of Maritime UK, said:
“There are tremendous opportunities in dynamic and fast-growing economies across the world. We need our network of embassies and High Commissions to be scoping opportunities and matching our companies with the demand. Competitor countries are certainly not scaling back their ambition, and neither should we.
“We live in a competitive global marketplace and competitor countries really get behind their companies.
“They get more of their companies to more exhibitions and on trade missions. Those companies get more contacts, knowledge and build stronger relationships which mean they win more business. If the DIT thought more commercially and recognised the ROI from trade promotion, they would see this as a win-win.”
Tom Chant Director at the Society of Maritime Industries said:
"There is no budget to support any exhibition in the shipbuilding sector in the 2018-19 financial year. This information was made available in May, 2 months after the start of the year and 8 months after we had submitted plans and budgets. When we go to overseas show, we face as a nation very strong competition from other countries who support their pavilions and companies by up to 80%. This creates more contacts and opportunities for our competition. It’s a simple equation, more contacts equals more opportunities which equals more business.
“Apart from the fact that we have no budget, the lateness of all DIT decisions seems to be systemic in the organisation.
“This indecision plagues all their events and costs the UK taxpayer more in increased fees for bookings through flights, hotels and space. It also lowers the number of UK companies that can benefit as they have all done their planning months ahead of the DIT. None of this is new: if you had access to “feedback” 10 years ago it would be the same.
“There are 2,039 UK SMEs who cannot get government grants (Tradeshow Access Program) for exporting because they have had six grants since April 2009. They are disincentivising these companies from exporting just when they should be out looking for business. In the 2017-18 financial year the SMI had 65 grants to allocate to selected overseas shows. In 2018-19 we have 29. How does this match with the UK being a global trading nation?
Richard Selby, International Development Manager of
British Marine & Superyacht UK said:
“When you look at the DIT coalface we effectively have
one dedicated maritime sector specialist who is contracted on a consultancy
basis. The level of knowledge and expertise provided by that specialist is
‘priceless’ and yet there is no appetite from government to increase such
levels of specialist support.
“On the contrary, sector support from overseas posts
in some countries has been removed and, in some cases, the marine and maritime
sector is supported by an expert from the luxury goods and retail fashion
“The international stage is clearly there for the DIT
to perform on and promote the innovation and quality of UK marine and maritime
products and services, but it seems that not even Brexit can stimulate the
activity required, which therefore raises questions about the individuals in
post who are allegedly there to increase exports.”