Regional Growth through Trade and Innovation

with the Rt Hon Michael Fallon MP, Minister for Business and Enterprise

Going for Growth through Trade
David Winstanley, Operations Director; Birmingham Airport
Paul Noon, West Midlands Regional Director, UKTI
Steve Brittan, President of the Birmingham Chamber of Commerce
Phill Potter, West Midlands Export Finance Adviser, UK Export Finance
Ian Fletcher, International Trade Director, NatWest

Supporting Manufacturing Innovation
Stewart Towe, Chairman of Hadley Industries and Chair of the Black Country LEP
Andrew Churchill, MD of JJ Churchill
Michael Fallon, Minister for Business and Enterprise

David Winstanley, Operations Director of Birmingham Airport welcomed the APPG for Trade & Investment to Birmingham and thanked everyone for making the effort to attend. He began by underlining the failure of Britain’s national aviation strategy, suggesting that no SME would operate with a strategy that had a single point of failure and was susceptible to time constraints, and yet this is how UK aviation works. Birmingham Airport’s submission to the Davies Commission stated that instead of relying on an overburdened Heathrow, a network of regional hubs should be developed, with modern rail and motorway infrastructure to support them. He concluded that whilst physical connectivity is important, connectivity of ideas and ingenuity is just as important, and this synergy is starting to pervade the West Midlands; the UK’s transport strategy must reinforce this.

Paul Noon, West Midlands Regional Director for UKTI spoke on the role that the organisation plays in the West Midlands and what its aims in the region are. UKTI want to see exports from the area doubled by 2020, and whilst there has been a 6 % growth so far, this will need to double to reach the target. Paul went on to set out UKTI’s organisation in the West Midlands which include 40 international trade advisors whose role is to discuss with companies their aims and provide tailored advice on the best methods and markets for their products. There is also an Advanced Routes to Market Team based in Coventry who can assist businesses looking at alternative routes into a new market, for example, through franchises.

Steve Brittan, President of the Birmingham Chambers of Commerce and Managing Director of BSA Machine Tools Ltd presented his views on the future of manufacturing and Heathrow. His company BSA Machine Tools has customers in China, Pakistan, Central America, Canada, Mexico, USA, and various other counties, and yet conspicuously few in Europe. Since the credit crisis, confidence has still yet to return to the Continent and there are greater rewards to be won in markets further afield. As a country with advanced engineering skills, Steve doesn’t see any future for Britain producing “nuts and bolts” which can be made abroad cheaper. Instead, we must focus on moving up the technology curve and exploiting the expertise and engineering skills that Britain has been able to hold onto. He concluded by suggesting that Heathrow developed as a hub in the past because of the range of planes. Now that aerospace technology has developed, there is no reason that Birmingham or Manchester can’t service the same airports that Heathrow used to dominate.

Phil Potter, West Midlands Export Finance Adviser with UKEF gave a brief outline of his position and his organisation, leaving the discussion of trade finance to Ian Fletcher. He highlighted that UKEF faces the same marketing difficulties as UKTI, but with radically less staff.

Ian Fletcher, International Trade Director for NatWest described his role as identifying risks and finding funding solutions for businesses looking to export. NatWest recognises that first-time exporters’ main concerns are how to break into a new market and how to finance these opportunities. Whilst UKTI helps with the former, solutions to the latter can come in many forms, including the Letter of Credit Guarantee Scheme, the Bond Support Scheme, and the Export Working Capital Scheme, all of which Ian explained in detail with illustrative case studies. Collaboration between UKEF and banks like NatWest mean that the whole spectrum of export finance can be supported, even when product insurance premiums are too high for the private sector.

Stewart Towe, Chairman of Hadley Industries and Chair of the Black Country LEP started the second panel on Innovative Manufacturing by discussing the role of the LEP. The main aim of the Black Country LEP currently is to get the 10% of businesses that it has engaged with to publicise its work and strengths to the 90% who aren’t aware of it. With regard to innovative manufacture, he cited the examples of the West Midlands new unique forge simulators, 3D printers and the world’s largest friction welding machine, all showing the region’s opportunity in high technology. He concluded by discussing innovative ways that the Regional Growth Fund could be used to encourage SMEs to get more involved in the greater business community, for example, suggesting that companies receiving a grant must commit to a 5 hours/week student placement to help spark an interest in the manufacturing sector in students from a younger age.

Andrew Churchill, MD of the third generation engineering company JJ Churchill Ltd opened his talk by proclaiming himself a great advocate of UKTI having received its help with entering Mexico. He explained that whilst manufacturing has been a ‘pariah’ for the past 5 years, this has been turned around both by industrial success and a supportive Government, and that manufacturing companies should capitalise on this mood. He clarified why the Government needs to set out a clear long-term industrial strategy which looks beyond the current Parliamentary term, in the same way that companies must. Issues such as access to finance, skills, greater industry collaboration, and widening the Science Budget ring fence to foster commercialisation of our universities’ ideas were all raised as areas for future action.

The keynote speech was delivered by Michael Fallon MP, Minister for Business. He began by outlining the difficulty that manufacturers in the UK have faced in the past, including an overdependence on European markets, a lack of access to finance, and oppressive amounts of red tape from the EU. The country has overcome these difficulties by becoming a world-leader in aerospace and automotive technologies and developing a range of new and innovative ideas from its universities. The West Midlands in particular has led these efforts, last year representing 7% of the UK’s Gross Value Added. To ensure the economy remains balanced, the Minister went on to discuss how the Government is acting to ensure the recovery is sustainable; Corporation Tax has been made more competitive, supply chains across the nation will be strengthened, and SME growth will be supported. He concluded that he wanted to see more self employed individuals taking the big leap to employ their first member of staff, which he believed they will in a sustainable, rebalanced economy.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s