Can gov’t plan turn the tide for SMEs?

By Rhys Handley, Monday 24 June 2019

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A new support package for the UK’s exporting SMEs could assist UK print’s global standing

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Fox: a potential “game-changer”

It may be understating things to describe the future of Britain’s trading relationship with the outside world as looking somewhat uncertain right now. Brexit plans remain hazy and businesses are resorting to guesswork.

In response, the Department for International Trade (DIT) has unveiled a package of financial support for SME exporters in an attempt to lessen the damage to smaller players who stand to be hit more significantly by turbulence than bigger counterparts.

The package, announced by trade secretary Liam Fox at the start of June, would not only support the exporters engaging in smaller offshore contracts but also to the companies in their supply chains which usually produce the wares that exporters send abroad.

“Through this, companies of all sizes will be able to access buyer finance support, with UK Export Finance (UKEF) guaranteeing the loans that their potential customers abroad take out in order to buy British,” says Fox.

“These announcements are potential game-changers for our export industry and will help us to tap a fresh vein of potential from within our economy.

“Many firms which are already eligible for export finance simply don’t realise it and that needs to change.”

According to research cited by UKEF head of business group operations David Priestley, companies selling overseas that have access to trade finance have export volumes up to 60% higher than those that do not. Even with the looming Brexit storm, the government is pushing incentives to keep Britain’s international trade afloat in uncertain waters.

“The government wants to do more to open the way for businesses, large or small, to export goods and services,” says Priestley. “A fifth of all UK registered businesses say they have never exported but believe they have goods or services which could potentially be exported or developed for export.

“This translates to more than 400,000 UK companies that could be exporting but aren’t.”

Printed matter remains a robust component in the UK’s export mix – in 2018, print exports were valued at £3.1bn. Books are the most valuable print export by far, valued at £2bn last year, but print in general remains a crucial British commodity aboard.

A little help
As a country, we export more printed matter than we import, sending our wares to all but 11 countries in the world, according to BPIF research. In a time of consolidation and turbulence for the sector, printers are looking for new ways to turn profit – and foreign territories could just be the place to start, if the sector is given a little help.

BPIF economist Kyle Jardine says: “The current political and economic turbulence has affected both domestic and export markets. Exports have at least provided some companies with an opportunity to mitigate some of the input inflation. However, exports have had to deal with additional logistical threats and political confusion.

“This package may help maintain those already involved in export markets and perhaps push those actively looking towards them. It is great to see the reference to the financial support for the supply chain as it is often not the printer that is exporting printed products [directly].”

Exporting can be a boon to a print business, especially if it works hard to corner a particular niche or to build a reputation as a specialist.

Security print outfit Tall Group comprises three companies with a combined £14m turnover, with all of its branches exporting to some degree. For its focus on emerging markets such as the Caribbean or Africa, as well as 12 years of commitment to consolidating its expertise in a particular market, the group was awarded a Queen’s Award for international trade – an honour which requires at least three years of continuous success in the field.

Managing director Martin Ruda says: “Exporting is a volatile market with a peak-and-trough nature but on any given year it brings in £1m-£3m for us. It is a challenging business to be in, but it can be very rewarding.

“We are optimistic as we have built a continuing business on a network of trustworthy local agents and resellers, but there are still additional territories we have yet to penetrate and products and services that we have yet to sell to existing markets.

“I am very keen on any package the DIT can offer as we have had tremendous support from them in the past as far as visiting new territories or going to conferences to find foreign clients goes. The department offers fantastic programmes I would like to see more of and would undoubtedly help British exporters.”

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