David Coppock, North East regional head at the Department for International Trade (DIT)
There are big ambitions for exporters across the Northern Powerhouse region, but our businesses are working hard to achieve them, as we discover talking to the Department for International Trade’s David Coppock
Brexit has thrust the UK’s trading performance in general, and exports in particular, under the spotlight.
It is recognised that exports are our lifeblood as a nation and this has prompted the government to devise a new export strategy, which was launched at the end of summer.
David Coppock, Head of the North East Region at the Department for International Trade (DIT), outlines the scale of its ambitions.
“In this climate of new trading possibilities, the government has set a new ambition to increase exports as a proportion of UK GDP to 35%. This is quite a step in value terms; it would certainly move the UK as a country towards the top of the G7 as a global exporter. While 35% is a big number, DIT estimates that 400,000 businesses believe they could export but don’t.
Across the north of England, the sub-regions which make up the Northern Powerhouse are working together on export activity. The DIT sub-regions each have separate responsibilities for the whole Northern Powerhouse: so the North West leads on trade missions and marketing, Yorkshire and Humber on sectors and markets and linking those, and the North East on export performance, trade performance and working with commercial partners and intermediaries.
In terms of performance, David is pleased with what has been achieved so far: the value of exports in goods across the Northern Powerhouse grew to around £59bn in 2017, an increase of 7.2% from the previous year.
This has come on the back of DIT working with some 2,000 businesses across the Northern Powerhouse last year.
“We have seen a really good uptake for DIT support,’’ says David. “We’re seeing great attendance on our trade missions in the North East and we have 31 companies currently signed up to go out to Boston in December and those 31 companies are very kindly being supported by Santander with a financial package. We have about 25 businesses signed up to go out to Shanghai in January on a trade mission. So we are starting to see a really good uptake on the further afield missions. We also had two missions out in November, one in Amsterdam and one in the Middle East, which were both well attended.
“We are also very pleased that we have been getting good support across the Northern Powerhouse for our trade and Brexit consultation events. We have been running a whole series of consultation events, some on the trade continuity programs where the EU currently has a trade agreement and there are about 40 countries where we are looking to have continuity agreements. We had an event at Nissan which was well attended, it was a good discussion and we have a lot of free trade discussions lined up with former Commonwealth partners and the US and we’re getting good input to that. The website for those consultations is currently open if people want to feed into them. So, there’s a lot going on.’’
But, is there a correlation between going on a trade mission and achieving export success?
“There is,’’ says David, “but it’s very difficult to prove mathematically. It’s a slow burn. For example, this month is the fifth time that we’ve been to Boston in the last five years and we are beginning to see reciprocal interest, we are beginning to see Boston and the North East US wanting to come this way, so we are beginning to develop a pipeline.
“We definitely see interest in North East America in life sciences, in venture capital, in digital and things that they are good at and we’re seeing an uptick in things around that area. So there is a correlation over time. We stay close to companies that go on missions and we encourage them to register their export sales wins, so we do track them and we work with them to the point where they are scoring sales wins.’’
His own North East sub-region is also performing well in exports, having achieved its targets and topping £13bn value in goods exported last year.
A major part of that is automotive, with Nissan based in Sunderland and a huge attendant automotive supply chain throughout the region.
The automotive industry globally has had a difficult few months but that does not yet seem to have hit the North East.
“I have heard a little bit about stock building going on to perhaps smooth the Brexit transition process, but I’m also aware that businesses are looking to trim their activity according to order books so we are watching that situation,’’ he says. “At the moment we haven’t seen that feed into exports, but it may be that that that comes through in the next results, in which case we’ll have to respond. Again I would encourage all businesses in the North East to be looking extensively at exports. We have good new strengths in areas such as autonomous and electric vehicles and that plays partly into the infrastructure and digital agenda as well.’’
Offshore is also a strong sector for the North East and, after a few difficult years, that is seeing a revival as oil prices rise, with renewed growth and a pick-up in investment.
“A recovering oil price means the sector is recovering and there’s lots of activity there,’’ says David. “I was talking to a business on Teesside recently who said they were looking at recruitment and significant growth again.’’
He adds: “Machine tools, engineering, advanced engineering and manufacturing, AEM, and life sciences and healthcare continue to be strong sectors for the region. Up and coming in the background, we continue to see significant wins for digital businesses. These are typically stand-alone independent businesses winning digital business on a global basis and we have got some exemplars there.’’
The key is partnership: between the sub-regions of the Northern Powerhouse and between the DIT and other organisations.
David says: “The North East LEP and the Tees Valley LEP are both about to publish their own local industrial strategies and I think they will play to those same agendas as well.’’
Above all, of course, the key partnership is with the businesses which are exporting, or which seek to be exporting.
PD Ports Northern Powerhouse Export Awards, in association with HSBC and the Department for International Trade, seeks to recognise the most entrepreneurial exporters from across the North of England.
For more info visit www.northernexportawards.co.uk.
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