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Trade Access Programme to be scrapped?

by Simon Parker

With all the hype and conjecture surrounding 19 July  ‘Freedom Day’ and the implications for events, you may have missed a story that caught my attention in The Times (9 July). In a piece entitled “Trade show blow to UK’s small firms”, James Hurley, enterprise editor reports that “ministers are planning to scrap a programme that helps small companies win overseas trade.”

The programme he refers to is the Trade Access Programme (TAP) which provides a package of support ostensibly to SME’s to encourage and help them export. As part of the Governments Industrial Strategy there is a stated aim to increase the value of exports from the current 30% GDP to 35% and TAP. In Baroness Fairheads words “we recognise that typically government doesn’t export, businesses do, so our focus is on identifying where government can help companies to achieve growth, productivity and job creation associated with export success.”  This all seems sensible and laudable and TAP provides a range of services aimed at “encouraging, informing, connecting and financing” businesses to enable them to export more.

They support a range of sectors from supporting UK Pavilions at Cannes Lions and Food Events to manufacturing events in the Philippines, Fintech in Chile and The World of Drones and Robotics in Australia. As many of you will have experienced TAP provides a vital service to companies that otherwise might not look to export. They demystify what can be a daunting process and provide grants of between £500 – £2,500 to subsidise the cost of exhibiting – sometimes the difference between exporting and not for many cash strapped SME’s. Companies can use this system up to six times so it is a real benefit for those that take it up and use it effectively.

The AEO have supported this programme enthusiastically and have a stated aim to encourage Government to provide a similar service to businesses exhibiting at UK events so it will be a major blow if Hurley’s report is correct.

Scant detail on replacement scheme

TAP sits under The Department for International Trade (DIT) which has said it would work on “future arrangements for supporting businesses” but as of yet have not provided any detail. There seems to have been very little consultation with the industry and the handful of organisers I have spoken knew absolutely nothing of the plans to scrap and replace the funding.

On the face of it this appears to be another body blow to our beleaguered sector and another example of how government says one thing namely “events are one of the most effective ways to support companies looking for trade opportunities” and does absolutely nothing to help and encourage us. Of course, the replacement scheme maybe a vast improvement and believe me nothing would please me more than to have a system to rival our international competitors. I am sure you are as tired of seeing and hearing how other countries support their exporters at trade shows – for reference compare how Germany and Korea operate (to name but two) .

Retrograde and short sighted

The Times article quotes Maritime UK, British Marine and the Society of Maritime Industries who have written to Graham Stuart, minister for exports, expressing their dismay over the move, calling it a “retrograde and short-sighted step for British exporters, especially SMEs”.

Tom Chant, chief executive of the Society of Maritime Industries, said: ““It is vital this scheme is replaced with something bigger and better if we are to properly enable SMEs to compete on a level playing field against their international competition and crucial to retaining our status as a global maritime leader.”

Clearly Chant’s comments can be applied to many other sectors although having experienced first hand the comparison of how the UK and Germany governments supports “maritime” currently we should be looking at substantially increasing support rather than diminishing it in any way.


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