Graham Blair: Scotland is up to the export challenge

It's Exporting is Great Week, the initiative designed to inspire and support 100,000 new exporters across the UK, and given the global instability in a number of sectors, perhaps it's time to remind ourselves just why exporting is so great for Scottish businesses?

Graham Blair, regional director for SME banking Scotland at Bank of Scotland. Picture: Contributed
Graham Blair, regional director for SME banking Scotland at Bank of Scotland. Picture: Contributed

Well, quite apart from the success that it can bring to individual businesses, boosting revenues and helping create employment, it’s no exaggeration to say that the future success of the Scottish economy hinges on business looking to overseas markets for growth, and that’s something we all have an interest in.

This is also demonstrated by the Scottish Government’s ambitious targets for exporting, with the view to drive growth and create new jobs across Scotland, setting a goal to increase the value of Scottish exports by 50 per cent by 2017.

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At Bank of Scotland, it’s certainly at the heart of our strategy. This month we launched our new SME charter, a series of pledges to continue growing lending to small businesses, help a new generation of start-up businesses and support small firms on their next phase of growth. It includes a promise to help 5,000 new exporters across the UK in 2016 and 25,000 by 2020.

These initiatives are expected to help reverse the UK’s rising trade deficit, an economic measure of a negative trade balance caused as a result of imports surpassing exports. The move comes at a time when Britain’s trade deficit in goods with the European Union hit a high of £23.6bn in the three months to January 2016, according to the Office for National Statistics.

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Scottish firms seem to be up to the challenge too. Our recent Business in Britain survey found 39 per cent of businesses based in Scotland expected their ability to compete internationally would improve in the next six months, against just 7 per cent who predicted a decline, with Europe and North America the most favoured markets.

We’re supporting their ambitions by working in partnership with UK Trade & Industry, which we teamed up with a year ago to research ways to boost Scottish exports. One result of that intelligence sharing and collaboration is a new online International Trade Portal, through which businesses will be able to learn how to identify opportunities and operate across the globe, and a new internet banking portal for business.

Tools like these will only go to enhance the support from our network of Scottish export specialists, who help develop overseas trade opportunities, provide specialist banking support and advise on the countries that customers are hoping to target.

Becoming a successful exporter is no mean feat. That is why we are investing in both on-the-ground expertise and digital technology, in order to ensure that businesses have the backing they need to succeed overseas.

It’s time for more Scottish firms to look beyond the confines of these islands and take the first steps on their export journey.

• Graham Blair is regional director for SME banking Scotland at Bank of Scotland