More government support needed for UK professional services firms overseas

New research from the British Chambers of Commerce (BCC) has revealed that the UK is set to miss a 2012 government target to hit £1 trillion in exports by 2020. In its International Trade Survey of almost 2500 businesses the organisation found that only 23% of professional services firms are operating overseas showing much untapped potential for new exports.

International markets with high potential for UK firms

"The government must take these figures seriously and help exporters to catch up. Our businesses have the potential to meet the target. They need ongoing support and access to finance to help them thrive on the world stage," said John Longworth, director general of the BCC.

"For some time we've been saying that we need a radical change in how we support export businesses. We cannot continue doing the same things, yet dream of different results."

John Longworth, director general, British Chambers of Commerce

Of the 2467 businesses surveyed earlier this year, 1227 were professional services firms. Of these 59% do not export their services, 23% are currently working overseas and a further 17% are planning to export in the next two years. Despite only a quarter of firms working internationally the services sector this year reported its highest ever trade surplus of £86bn, 5% of GDP.

This sees the UK currently rank as the second largest exporter of services in the world behind the US, but the BCC says that its survey highlighted the need for government action to open up markets, and the need for UK businesses to increase the skills range of their workforce in order to be competitive internationally.

The greatest barriers to exporting among services firms were differences in regulations and standards (27%) and language or cultural differences (26%).

“The services sector is regularly overshadowed by manufacturers in the media and public imagination, despite the fact that we are one of the world’s leading exporters of financial and professional services. The low proportion of these firms actively exporting highlights the enormous untapped potential UK services firms hold,” said Longworth.

The survey finds that at current export rates the UK will miss its £1 trillion export target by 14 years. "For some time we've been saying that we need a radical change in how we support export businesses. That we are set to miss the export target by 14 years tells us that the radical shift needed has not happened. We cannot continue doing the same things, yet dream of different results. For our part, the BCC will continue to grow our global network, providing practical support to UK businesses of all shapes and sizes around the world,” he said.

Research also highlighted the markets considered to have the highest potential among firms that are exporting or planning to export with The US, Germany, France, the UAE and China being the most attractive to businesses. Other top ten countries included South Africa, Brazil, Malaysia, India and Mexico.


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