Shake-up needed to boost exports says Wilson review

A FORMER UK government minister is calling for a major shake-up in business support agencies in order to help struggling exporters.

Brian Wilson called for a joinedup approach to support for Scotlands exporters. Picture: Getty Images

An inquiry led by Brian Wilson found Scottish firms “confused” by the number of bodies offering advice and unaware that some existed.

Wilson’s Review Into Support for Scottish Exporting recommends closer collaboration between organisations such as Scottish Development International (SDI), the Scottish Council for Development and Industry (SCDI) and the UK Trade & Industry department.

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It found Scotland’s export base to be “too narrow” and that while SDI, the trade and investment arm of the Scottish Government, was praised for its helpfulness, contacts and efficiency, it would only engage with companies within its priority sectors.

The report says “the last thing we want to do is add new bureaucracies” and instead recommends a single “portal” branded Scottish Exports “should bring together all of the organisations which currently offer these services”.

Many firms questioned for the research still experienced difficulties identifying where to get help and advice. The review states that it is important to create a “seamless, complementary approach which assists rather than frustrates them”.

The report adds: “It has been made clear to us that this is not always the case. The landscape is further confused by the existence of a plethora of other bodies, all of them with a stake in the promotion of exports.”

The report lists these bodies as local authorities, development agencies, chambers of commerce, trade associations and the SCDI.

“All have legitimate roles to play but it is essential that they should do so within a framework that is clear and comprehensible to the businesses that they are seeking to serve. It became clear to us that this is often at odds with the reality,” it says.

The report from Wilson, a former minister in the trade and energy departments, was commissioned by the former Scottish secretary Michael Moore and continued under his successor Alistair Carmichael.

It has received input from a wide range of individuals and organisations, including a cross- section of business leaders, academics and trade organisations.

The Scottish Government has set a target of increasing the value of Scottish exports by 50 per cent by 2017 from a base of £22.81 billion in 2010.

While the review was independent of the constitutional debate, Wilson admitted that for many key exporters it was “the elephant in the room” and they “expressed to us a range of concerns that call out to be addressed”.

Chief among these were currency and the costs and benefits associated with it. The report said that it was “beyond dispute that the creation of an international border would create costs for exporters and consumers”. The Treasury has claimed that Scottish businesses could face a £600 million bill if Scotland was to become an international export market with its own currency arrangements.

The report calls for colleges and universities to develop more courses with an international trade focus and for the UK and Scottish governments to demand reinstatement of the air route development scheme which, until it was wound up in 2008, had been used successfully to encourage airlines to provide direct flights to more destinations.

Respondents said that the contribution made by the GlobalScots network of ex-patriates was “inconsistent”.