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UK piggy bank with money

Today’s (23 November) UK Trade and Export Finance Forum in London, convened by UK Export Finance (UKEF), saw the introduction of “more flexible, fast-track funding” for small businesses looking through the expansion of the agency’s ‘auto-inclusion’ scheme.

It also said that the maximum support for SME exporters under the scheme was doubling from £5m to £10m, allowing firms easier access to financing to begin or expand their international sales. They will also be offered more flexible repayment terms.

Good news

Small businesses and their ability to trade were the focus of exports minister Lord Offord of Garvel’s keynote address, as he vaunted the role small they can play in achieving the government’s goal of £1trn in exports by 2030.

Offord said the UK’s record on exports is a “good-news story, which is why we can’t get the BBC to report it or the Financial Times to write about it”. A large bounce-back since the pandemic saw UK exports hit £880bn last year, he said, representing a 30% bounce-back.

UK goods are desirable across the world, Offord argued, and this includes “a lot more than whiskey and chocolate”.

The focus in growing exports should be on SMEs, he contended.

“There are 10,000 large companies – they do what they do very well. But if you take those out, about 10–11% of our 2.5 million registered companies export. Can we get the numbers up to 500,000?”

Time to ‘turbocharge’

This would also be crucial to “levelling up” the UK’s regions and transitioning to a low-carbon economy, he added.

With the UK economy “stabilising” after the shocks of Covid and the Ukraine war, with inflation also coming down, Lord Offord said is time to “turbocharge” the UK economy – something he said was the intention of the measures announced in yesterday’s Autumn Statement.

Industries of the future

Particular mention was given to advanced manufacturing – a cutting-edge industry that, alongside fintech and life sciences, could boost the UK economy “for the next ten years”..

“Full expensing is a big deal; for every pound you put into [capital spending for] your business, you get 25p back. That’s a pretty good deal, I would say.”

The UK has a “wide sweep of goods and services that the world wants to buy”, and Offord noted that the UK’s SME Connect event next year marked another opportunity to address how SMEs can get into exporting or grow their export business.

Reid speaks

Tim Reid, UKEF’s chief executive, followed Offord with a speech in which he said UKEF is involved “at every stage” of firms’ export journeys.

He paid similar attention to SMEs, which he said were currently supported in their “hundreds” by UKEF, but which it hopes to support in their thousands soon.

“We are making our insurance product easier and quicker to use, and we are financing overseas buyers so that they can buy from SMEs directly.”

A unique element in UKEF’s work is that it can help companies to export to “challenging markets” where the private sector cannot offer the same support, Reid argued. This aids them in winning contracts on global projects.

Finance boost

The agency is increasing its capacity, offering a £6bn maximum of support per country, up from a previous £5bn. That means that “even in countries where we’ve done plenty of business, we can now go further in our support”.

A further increase of the agency’s total finance capacity, from £50bn to £60bn, means it is able to help more customers “than ever before”, Reid added.

From roadworks in Tanzania to shipbuilding on Merseyside, Reid said he had seen the impact UK businesses can have on lives when they export. In Guyana, he said, UKEF had helped to finance a hospital that represents the single largest healthcare investment in the country’s history.

“Our collaboration creates results that are felt by communities in the UK and around the world – that is why today’s event is so vital.”