Paul Stowers, head of UK regions - North West, Department for International Trade
The Northern Powerhouse has huge export potential, the Department for International Trade's Paul Stowers tells BQ.
As a globally trading nation, exports have long been vital to the UK economy, and their importance will only grow once Britain has left the EU.
The government is therefore keen to do everything it can to encourage and support exporters, and its vehicle for this support is the Department for International Trade (DIT), which was created in the wake of the EU referendum.
Its role is to encourage exports and to support investment from overseas. To this end, it has staff based in consulates and embassies around the world, as well as specialists throughout the UK.
Paul Stowers, head of UK regions - North West for the DIT, explains: “In the regions we have teams of international trade advisers who will work with companies which are considering exporting, or would like to take their exports to the next level.
“If they have the skills and ability, our experts will help them to realise their exporting potential.
“We support all kinds of business from the big multinationals right down to small local businesses who are just starting out on their exporting journeys.”
Aside from the North West, Stowers also has responsibilities across the wider Northern Powerhouse (NPH), part of a programme to boost economic development in the North by helping the great cities of the region – Manchester, Liverpool, Leeds, Sheffield, Hull and Newcastle to pool their strengths. The DIT’s teams in the North West, North East and Yorkshire and Humberside work jointly on several pan-NPH projects, and Stowers runs the trade missions programme.
Every year the Northern Powerhouse runs about 20 trade missions to locations all over the world, specifically designed for, and available to, Northern companies only. These are in addition to the Department’s central programme of trade mission activity, which includes supporting companies exhibiting at trade shows. The Northern Powerhouse has run about 20 trade missions this financial year in Europe, China, North America and the Middle East.
Stowers added: “My other responsibility across the North is to ensure that we have a network of export champions - companies that are already successful exporters who are happy to talk to others in their industry to encourage exporting.’’
The Northern Powerhouse, as an idea and a programme, is beginning to gain recognition in overseas markets, according to Stowers.
“The Northern Powerhouse is a useful brand. The Chinese president has talked about the Northern Powerhouse in his speeches and he visited Manchester a few years ago. As a brand it has certainly gained traction.’’
His own base is in the North West, where he has a team of about 50 people, most of whom are international trade advisers. The North West region, which stretches from the Pennines to the Coast and from Crewe to Carlisle, makes up a large part of the Northern Powerhouse in several ways.
He explains: “Geographically it’s a very big region and it takes several hours to cross it. It represents something like 40% or more of the Northern Powerhouse business base. So it’s a big powerful region and the North West alone, in economic terms, is bigger than Wales or Scotland or Northern Ireland.’’
The North West is also a region of enormous diversity, from the rural splendour of the Lake District to the vibrant cities of Manchester and Liverpool, it produces everything from market garden produce to jet fighters.
Greater Manchester alone has a population of 2.7 million and more than 100,000 businesses, while Lancashire has the largest cluster of aerospace activity in the UK, employing more than 12,700 people.
“We are lucky in that we have a very strong manufacturing base in Lancashire and around the Manchester and Liverpool areas. We are also very strong in education, with a very good university sector, and healthcare and life sciences are very strong, as are our creative and digital sectors,’’ says Stowers.
“In the North West we have a really nice mix of the big metropolitan and manufacturing areas, yet within a very short distance there is beautiful scenery that people are happy to call home for their businesses and families.
And, of course, the region also boasts some of the world’s most famous and successful football teams.
“In international trade terms, the football is a draw, we get delegations that come to the North West, from China for example, and they want to go to see Old Trafford,’’ says Stowers. “It does create interest for us and it does help the general brand, understanding and knowledge of the region, which doesn’t do any harm.’’
He also points out that the North West has a strong track record of coming up with world-beating ideas.
“We have a strong record in innovation in the region. We have the Graphene Institute in Manchester, and we’re at the forefront of pioneering a number of scientific advancements. We’re strong in cyber security and digital technology, and we have a very strong creative sector which is growing all the time.
It also boasts Manchester Airport, the third biggest in the UK in terms of passenger numbers. It was the first, outside London, to offer direct flights to Beijing and has recently launched direct flights to Mumbai and Ethiopia. All of this has helped the North West to win major export markets around the world.
Paul adds: “China is potentially a big market for us. Five or 10 years ago it wasn’t in our top 10 export destinations, now it’s in our top five and even quite small companies do surprisingly well there.”
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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