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Ensure small and medium-sized businesses can identify the right markets and sectors

Last updated: 03:07pm 8 December 2019

We will ensure that small and medium-sized businesses are able to identify the right markets and sectors to win vital contracts abroad.

Conservative Party Manifesto 2017, p.15

Our verdict

According to Office for National Statistics estimates, in 2017, 340,500 businesses were trading internationally, accounting for 14.3% of all businesses in Britain’s non-financial economy. While 98.7% of these were small and medium-sized businesses (SMEs) – with up to 250 employees – they account just for a small proportion (14.2%) of the total number of SMEs. In comparison, 53.8% of the total number of large businesses were trading internationally. With SMEs reporting barriers to export including lack of knowledge and contacts, this policy promises to ensure they will be able to identify the right markets and sectors to win contracts abroad.

In August 2018, the government published its Export Strategy policy paper. With regards to SMEs, it outlines measures, including creating an Export Champions network to offer guidance, assessing financial incentives (such as vouchers, grants and loans), reviewing the role of International Trade Advisers and considering how to improve support through initiatives such as the Tradeshow Access Programme.

The latest report on businesses’ exporting behaviour by the Department for International Trade, published in July 2019, revealed that there are still weaknesses in this area. In fact, 50% of businesses reported not being able to assess international competition, and fewer (40%) felt able to undertake a market research study. Moreover, in a downward trend from previous estimates, fewer companies feel able to asses the cost of exporting, or believe they have sufficient capacity to focus on foreign markets.

Under this government, the Export Strategy set out measures to help SMEs identify markets and sectors to win contracts abroad, and some initiatives outlined in the strategy have been implemented. However, the latest survey on businesses behaviours reveals companies are finding it harder to assess international competition, costs and capacity. This policy will stay ‘in progress’.

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