Other blogs and reports on UKTI have mainly focused on the UK but what about UKTI operations overseas? The National Audit Office reported, with its customary discretion, that our diplomatic posts were not commercially oriented and the linkages with the UKTI personnel embedded within them were poor. Roles were confused and, by inference, the UK was not getting value for the “£420M spent by the FCO and UKTI on supporting UK business overseas 2012-13”. The FCO promised to reform but they have been promising that for nigh on 100 years.
Visit the UKTI overseas websites and part of the problem becomes clear. They are mostly the standard bromides about the role of UKTI. The events to which they refer are not in the country in question but back in the UK, mostly foreign language courses. The overall message in each one is about helping the nationals of that country export TO the UK. “Business partnerships” is a term much used but they have it the wrong way round: UKTI is supposed to be building the UK economy through, inter alia, exports, not weakening our balance of payments through encouraging imports, still less weakening our manufacturers through increased competition.
The Morocco and Algeria UKTI websites make an interesting comparison. The Morocco one names three UKTI representatives, with contact details and their specialist areas of expertise. Exemplary. The Algeria one just has the details of the British Embassy. Maybe the switchboard there will find someone to take your call, maybe not. My source in Algeria tells me that our last two ambassadors there found no one from UKTI up to the job and had to bring in two of their own FCO people to cover trade matters. Obviously the ambassadors would be too diplomatic to confirm that.
So Morocco is well UKTI staffed and, given the size of its economy, possibly overstaffed, whereas Algeria, whose economy is twice the size of Morocco’s and has far more opportunities for British business, is barely staffed at all.
The coalition government has decided more exports would be good and therefore more money should be awarded to UKTI. This is simplistic. UKTI is drowning in its own bureaucracy. They need to learn how to swim.