For 30 years thousands of British companies have taken advantage of the Government-funded Trade Fairs Support Scheme. The pot of money, around £20m last year, helps 9,000 companies attend trade fairs overseas.
It helps with the cost of stands, exhibition space and advertising British goods and Government funds have paid for half the cost of most of the activities. It is particularly popular with small and medium-sized firms who need practical and financial support.
Research commissioned in 1994 by the president of the Board of Trade proved that the scheme is self-funding. That year extra sales generated through new exports were estimated at £392m, generating additional corporation and income tax of £28m.
By all accounts the scheme works well and is a very effective way of pump-priming export activity.
But for the first time, this year some of the funding will come through the DTI’s Sector Challenge, meaning that exporters will have to compete for funds.
Trade and industry minister Anthony Nelson said last week he is minded to make all funding for trade fairs available through the challenge round in the future.
If this happens, trade fair activities will be put at risk. The diversion of money into the Sector Challenge has already killed off a number of well-established visits to trade fairs.
As Nelson carries out his review he should listen carefully to trade associations and exporting companies who fear that this successful and essential funding scheme will become a lottery, and long-term planning will become impossible.