The Government has embarked on a radical overhaul of its £220m export promotion activities with a merger of the foreign trade divisions of the Department of Trade and Industry and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.
The overhaul, sparked by a report by cabinet secretary Sir Richard Wilson last week, involves setting up a single body which will switch focus from promotional to development work for UK exports, worth £164bn a year. The move has been welcomed by industry.
Wilson’s report seeks to improve coordination in government export support services in the wake of a series of scandals. Incidents such as the sale of Matrix Churchill machine tools to Iraq and Sheffield Forgemasters’ involvement in the Iraqi supergun have raised fears that the DTI and Foreign Office were not communicating with each other.
Welcoming the report, the CBI said: ‘The re-balancing towards trade development is important, as is the creation of a more effective system for small firms.’
The report makes 42 recommendations and says the combined Foreign Office-DTI operation to be called British Trade International should work to a single strategy. Its chief executive, Sir David Wright now British ambassador to Japan should report to a board drawn from the private sector and chaired by Foreign Office and DTI ministers.
Wilson’s report recommends setting up a national call centre with a single telephone number, equipped with ‘well-tended databases’. British Trade International’s regional and local network in England would liaise with other bodies such as local chambers of commerce and Training and Enterprise Councils. Wilson also suggests a bi-directional movement of staff between UK business and British Trade International to help improve communications.
‘Business can fully support the recommendations of this review,’ said British Airways chairman and CBI deputy president Lord Marshall. ‘Taken together they will ensure a new coherence and effectiveness in enhancing Britain’s export and investment promotion.’