Point of view

Jan Fillingham, head of exhibitions, the Beama Federation

We are putting at risk the life blood of the UK for the sake of administrative convenience

The Department of Trade & Industry has announced a phasing out of support for international trade fairs, a scheme under which the Beama Federation has for nearly 30 years been a major sponsor for British electrotechnical companies exhibiting overseas.

It is proposed that support will in future be provided under the Sector Challenge and the Trade Fair Support Scheme (TFSS) will be wound up by 31 March 1999.

The TFSS is one of the simplest schemes for an exhibitor to operate. Sponsors take on the burden of space purchase, overall stand design and construction, the supply of ancillary services such as communal on-site telephone, telefax, national catalogue and other below the line services, which make for less onerous participation. This is particularly attractive to small and medium sized companies without the internal resources to organise their own events. While the scheme is detailed and complex for the sponsor, to an end-user it is simplicity personified.

Over the years TFSS has created an unbroken link between sponsors and organisers. Sponsors, such as Beama, have built up a rapport and trust with exhibition organisers which virtually guarantees that space allocated to a UK group is at a prime site.

This rapport extends to the relationship with stand contractors and other suppliers, and ensures that the service provided to exhibitors and UK plc is of the highest quality.

TFSS is nominally a cost effective scheme and in 1996-97 some 9,000 companies overall will have been supported at more than 345 trade shows throughout the world. In 1994 the export sales it generated were valued at £392m, and the forecast for 1997-98 is approximately £500m.

The findings of an independent report (KPMG 1994) commissioned by the British Overseas Trade Board demonstrated conclusively the Government’s current investment of £19.8m is more than offset by the additional corporation and income tax generated by new export orders.

Under the Sector Challenge any event can be bid for by different agencies, and it is probable that bids by organisations inexperienced in the electrotechnical sector and in the market countries will succeed.

As a result, the UK will lose many of the advantages that it previously enjoyed. There could also be a tendency towards increased space costs because of a plethora of new sponsors with no track record of negotiating with organisers.

There is a further complication and expense in the new scheme not found under the simpler TFSS.

In a worse case scenario, fewer companies will be assisted to exhibit in a reduced number of exhibitions, in fewer countries, with a consequent loss of exports and opportunity. Spin off activities such as freight forwarding, travel companies and airlines will also be affected by the downturn in export marketing activities.

This debacle does not only apply to the electro-mechanical sector but to exporters across the board. To be highly emotive, we are putting at risk the life blood of the UK for the sake of administrative convenience.

The Beama overseas fairs programme has for many years been successful and much valued by its users, which includes non-members. In 1995 we took 267 companies to 14 electrotechnical exhibitions in 11 countries, world-wide.

Most companies assisted by our scheme came within the category of small to medium sized enterprises – one of the prime targets for Government support. Many of the household names in the electrical engineering sector have cut their teeth on export markets within a Beama overseas group.

We are very concerned that under the proposals as they stand, UK companies, large and small, will be put at a serious disadvantage when compared to their international competitors. We would urge the UK Government to reconsider its position based on the old adage: If it ain’t broke – don’t fix it!

Beama is the Federation of British Electrotechnical and Allied Manufacturers’ Associations, a group of 18 federated trade associations which, between them, represent some 500 manufacturing companies.

Beama is the leading trade federation of the £54bn a year electrotechnical industry which exports 45.6% of total production, or £24.6bn of its products annually.

Manufacturers in the Beama product sectors – which exclude such items as computers and consumer durables – employ around 175,000 people in Britain producing an annual output of £25bn, of which 48.5% or £12bn, is exported.