Fight over fairs funds cut

Exporters lobby Government over plans to scrap automatic funding for trade fairs

Britain’s exporters have launched a lobby group to fight Government plans to scrap direct funding for overseas trade fairs.

Representatives of more than 80 trade associations met earlier this month to coordinate their campaign.

The Government says it will withdraw all automatic funding through the Trade Fairs Support Scheme by March 1999. The scheme allows trade associations to organise groups of companies to exhibit at up to 350 trade fairs a year.

Future cash will come through the Sector Challenge initiative, where trade associations bid for funds against a range of other initiatives.

This year 340 schemes have been encouraged to develop full bids for a share of the £30m Sector Challenge money. One in ten of these has a trade fair element and the winners will be announced in March.

The trade fairs support scheme will provide £17m in 1997-98 for 260 groups of firms attending exhibitions worldwide.

Trade associations claim this represents a significant cut on last year. Many associations have cancelled regular trips which they organise for members.

Beama, a federation of 18 electrical and electronic manufacturing associations, has lost funding for seven of its planned 14 exhibitions. `It is ludicrous that a scheme that has been tried and tested for 30 years and which brings vital export orders should be under threat,’ said Jan Fillingham, head of exhibitions at Beama.

The trade associations point to research in 1994 that proved the scheme is self-funding – additional sales through new exports was estimated at £392m, with extra tax revenue of £28m.

The DTI is also reducing grants to successful firms. The rate of grant on the cost of renting space and constructing space is down from 50% to 45%, and the price levels on which construction grants are based are pegged at 1995-96 levels.