The primary purpose of UK Trade and Investment (UKTI) is to help small exporters. Large companies, whether exporters or those concerned with inward or outward investment, can mostly look after themselves, calling on Whitehall when they need to. Small and medium enterprises (SMEs) have neither the strings to pull nor the resources to divert to tangling with bureaucracy.
Following the crash, banks rebuilt their capital by reducing credit, especially to those most in need of it. Exporting SMEs were seen to be high risk and had their credit withdrawn across the board. Rebuilding the banks’ capital at the expense of the economy was the right medicine at the wrong time.
You might think that UKTI would have leapt to the defence of small exporters and taken their part in securing credit or, at the very least, preventing banks from taking punitive action without warning. You would be wrong.
Many SME directors only discovered that their credit cards had been cancelled when they were checking out of overseas hotels at the end of their export missions. Some were trapped in foreign countries until alternative payments could be made. Each of these episodes cost the SME hundreds of pounds as it made alternative arrangements. One director, in the USA, landed up in gaol. And of course the embarrassment did nothing for the SMEs’ export market credibility, never mind the inconvenience and loss of working time.
Apparently word buzzed around the SME community quickly and they began using travellers’ cheques again. This may be old (2011) news to some but it has not been widely published. It was brought to my attention by a group of Cambridge based SMEs which had read my recent ASI report (“Is government helping exports?” 16 May 2014) on UKTI.
Apparently my critique was not the half of it. They are mostly technology companies and, I was told, UKTI does not even get to first base when it comes to technology. Time for a serious review of UKTI?