Hobbled by an almost exclusive focus on the low-wage services industry and the short-term thinking of the financial sector, the UK has lagged woefully behind on exports.
A final Cole Commission report released today (June 24), however, has highlighted the role the government can play in boosting exports to rebalance the economy.
The Commission has put pressure on prime minister David Cameron to do more to reach the government’s own stated of goal of a £1tn increase in exports by the end of the decade.
Recommendations include setting up a provision in which small- and medium-sized businesses are in involved in all government procurement contracts which may lead to export sales, as well as encouraging more collaboration with key trade bodies.
The Commission also recommended establishing a “one stop shop” network globally to support British business overseas and help exporters to compete more effectively with countries such as China, Germany and others.
Unite, which gave evidence to the Cole Commission on the need for manufacturing to be at the heart of the economy, hailed the report.
“While there has been a renaissance in UK manufacturing, particularly in the automotive industry, we still have a serious trade deficit,” noted Unite assistant general secretary Tony Burke.
“The Cole report is an important stepping stone in constructing a strategy to rebalance the economy away from the City and the service sector, and boosting exports,” he added.
“With the election out of the way, ministers must focus strongly on the report’s recommendations, such as a unified body embracing UK Trade & Investment (UKTI) and UK Export Finance (UKEF).
“The government has gone some way to achieving this with Lord Maude’s appointment taking in the Foreign Office and the business department. We hope he starts banging heads together, taking into account the positive measures outlined in the Cole report.
“We are trading in a fast moving, globalised world, and the current system in the UK is too complex and too fragmented,” Burke added. “Other countries, such as Germany, are much better at pulling all the relevant strands – government, business and the unions – together for a vibrant export strategy.
“This should be coupled with specialist support for small and medium-sized businesses (SMEs) in the supply chain to get into exporting goods through ‘one stop shops’.
“In a nutshell, we need the government to commit to a manufacturing strategy and for exports to be central to such a strategy.”
Read Unite’s response to the Cole Commission on Exports here.
Find the full Cole Commission report here.