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Cole Commission calls for export “revolution”

Government support for UK exporters needs to go further in order to tackle Britain’s trade deficit, according to the Cole Commission on exporting.

Led by Graham Cole, chairman of AgustaWestland, the independent report was commissioned by Labour's shadow chancellor Ed Balls and shadow business secretary Chuka Umunna.

The interim findings have been published after five months of consultation and more than 70 submissions from industry. A final report will be produced in June.

The Cole Commission has called for a “revolution in export culture” and has proposed that the British Chambers of Commerce (BCC) network is used as a one-stop shop for SME export support. It has also put the case for an export Cabinet committee chaired by the prime minister and the appointment of a senior, elected trade minister.

“For Britain to compete, support for exports has to go further,” said Graham Cole. “That means wider political leadership from the prime minister down. A new Cabinet committee driving an empowered trade minister, answerable to parliament, able to knock heads together and make things happen.”
The key recommendations in the report include:

  • Support and finance to be brought under one roof and one leader, with UKTI and UK Export Finance reporting to the trade minister;
  • A mandatory export plan for all public procurements;
  • Dedicated qualifications in exports.

The report also highlights the low take-up of UKEF schemes by small firms, compounded by “cumbersome, process-driven products and services”. It suggests introducing lower cost versions of these products for smaller firms.

Commenting on the proposals, John Longworth, BCC Director General, said the UK’s trade performance had “disappointed for decades”. He said: “The Cole Commission is right to say that we must put international trade at the very heart of Britain's economic plan, and at the very heart of government. 

Its independent recommendations present an opportunity to kick-start a revolution in how we approach international trade in the UK.”

Lee Hopley, chief economist at EEF, said: 

“The UK critically needs to up its export performance to ensure stable and sustainable growth. The Cole Commission rightly takes a holistic approach, rather than narrowly looking at export support to also consider wider requirements such as the education pipeline, considering skills shortages and digital requirements.”

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