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Hello, it's a pleasure to be here in the West Midlands to lead our UK Trade and Investment team and help support companies in the region to internationalise. We're here to help and want to increase the support we give to companies to help them explore new markets and grow their exports in their current markets.
In the Autumn Statement, UKTI was given an increase in budget of £70 million per year. For the West Midlands, this means an additional seven people in the region supporting business from April, and a significant increase in the size and flexibility of the financial support we can give to exporters.
There is plenty of opportunity to trade, a market for everyone and support to get you there.
However, there's no doubt we face an enormous economic challenge. We've run a trade deficit nearly every year for the last 50 years and only one in five of our companies export, when the European average is one in four. We've got to shift the economy from one that's built on debt, to one that's built on trading and selling our goods overseas. There isn't another option.
In the West Midlands, our goal is to double exports from around £20 billions in 2012, to £40 billions by 2020. If we achieve these demanding targets, we will rebalance our economy and see growth driven by exports, jobs and innovation generated by companies challenged by the rigours of international trade.
I'm confident that the region is up to this challenge. Jaguar Land Rover, Carillion and JCB are brilliant companies, leading the way and breaking into new markets, including China.
A big part of my role will be to get the whole supply chain for these innovative companies to look at where they too can find new markets. West Midlands firms are exporting more to China than any other UK region. In the first nine months of last year, we exceeded the whole of the previous year's exports to China.
While our traditional markets such as Europe and the US have struggled as they, like us, have had to contend with reduced public spending and lack of credit to drive their economies, they still remain important to our export performance.
Further afield, I have seen first hand how UK companies can be successful in the more developed markets such as Australasia. I spent the last four years heading-up our teams in Australia and New Zealand where UK companies of all sizes are winning business and competing with the best international firms. There is plenty of demand for our goods and services out there.
There are also the opportunities provided by countries such as India, China, Brazil, and other fast growing markets such as Russia, Thailand and South Africa. These markets can be more challenging and companies often require additional support to understand the cultural and business environment. Language too can be seen as a barrier to trading with these countries, but there is support available to help companies overcome these difficulties.
We will continue to work hard to secure bigger slices of bigger contracts around the world for UK companies through our High Value Opportunities programme. I worked on one of these opportunities in Australia where the value of contracts to extract gas from Northern Australia are truly enormous and should be accessible to a wide range of companies in the oil and gas sector, but also in IT, catering, legal, finance, health and safety, general engineering and many others.
We will also need to reach into areas of the economy that we have not traditionally worked closely with. This includes getting more medium sized businesses exporting. These businesses are at the heart of our economy and often require different forms of support to grow internationally. We have recently recruited staff to focus on this sector of business and, with the help of partners we are working hard to ensure we can deliver the support they need, when they need it, and in the way that has most impact for their business.
We can support firms of all shapes and sizes - whether they make things or deliver services. We will develop services for those companies who export through the internet, helping them to export more strategically. Leading the way for this type of business is success story Bean2Bed which makes world-class products in the West Midlands and sells them across the globe. One of the company's directors happens to be my next door neighbour so I don't need to go very far to get feedback on the support we give to companies like this.
I would welcome a dialogue with the business community to find out how we can help you be more successful overseas. We need to hear from you so we can ensure we remain focussed on the needs of business.
Challenge me, and UKTI to deliver what you need to grow. I have set up a discussion on the LinkedIn group below. I would really like to hear from you.
Paul Noon, OBE, took up the role of West Midlands International Trade Director at UK Trade & Investment in December 2012. Paul's most recent post was in Sydney, Australia, where he was Director of Trade for Australia and New Zealand for four years. There Paul worked with hundreds of companies, many from the West Midlands, to support them to grow their export businesses in Australasia. He also supported Australian companies to invest in the UK.
Sydney was Paul's fifth overseas posting after Damascus, Syria; Bonn, Germany; Wellington, New Zealand and Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of the Congo. He has also worked in several departments of the Foreign Office in London.
Ahead of the publication of the Energy Bill next month, an increasingly heated and polarised debate is playing out about whether or not the UK should adopt a 2030 decarbonisation target as part of ongoing electricity market reforms.
The UK is the 'destination of choice' for global vehicle assemblers according to an excellent recent report by KPMG for the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT), which also highlights major opportunities for suppliers as vehicle output in Britain rises (the report is well worth a read and can be found by clicking here).
The report suggests that vehicle output in the UK will grow by around 9% a year to over 2.2m units a year by 2016, despite the weakness in the Eurozone which is impacting on sales in Europe.
It's a tale of two taxis. Coventry based black cab firm Manganese Bronze has just published disappointing results, with losses widening to £4.7m after an accounting cock-up and a slump in orders for its iconic black can in the key London market.
Manganese said that overseas sales (up by 6.3% to 504 cabs) failed to compensate for a drop in UK sales (down by 23% to just 577 cabs) and that the firm was unlikely to return to profit in the final quarter of 2012. It had previously said that it would be back in profit this year. It's all a bit worrying for a firm with just £2.8 million in the bank. Losses in 2011 were £700,000.
Operating margins were squeezed by supply chain issues (importing components all the way from China can't help) as well as increased warranty costs. The firm's shares have dropped by 75% since April, from a peak of around 40p in April to 10p recently as investors have piled out of the firm.
How to protect your business from cyber attack and understanding how the new Bribery Act works
Two of the comments I hear all too frequently when I'm talking to businesses are: "my IT systems are completely secure" and "there's no point doing business in this or that country unless you're willing to pay a bribe."
Both statements are not only wrong, but in the current business climate, potentially very dangerous.
The Big Banks have some of the best PR in the country and always seems to have a neat story to explain why they are so important to the UK economy and how 'over regulation' (meaning of course any regulation at all) could damage the UK plc's greatest asset.
The PR spin is adjusted depending on what fiasco has just engulfed them (the credit crunch, going cap in hand to the government for frequent bail outs, mis-selling to SMEs, rigging the LIBOR market etc) but centres on three lines of attack: 1. the City employs a lot of people; 2. It's a Very Important Part (VIP you might say) of the UK economy; and 3. Its innovative products benefit customers.
Last month all of us effectively signed a new monthly contract, without really realising it. It wasn't for a new mobile, a new TV sports package, or even for a new car lease. Rather it was a monthly package to bail out our banks, to the tune of at least £5 billion a month.
The new bail out came in the form of the Bank of England's 'Extended Collateral Term Repo Facility' (ECTRF). Don't worry about the fancy language. It's another bail out, every month, for at least £5 billion. Bail-as-you-Go, you might say.
So Barclays manipulated inter bank lending rates unlawfully.
The US authorities have "brought attempted manipulation and false reporting charges against Barclays". Barclays have had to pay $360Million in penalties to the US Department of Justice and the Commodity Futures Trading Commission.
False Reporting charges would in other contexts have resulted in a knock on the door from the Fraud plod in the UK. The FSA, compared with the US authorities, though, rather limply fines Barclays for what it calls "misconduct" and fines it a paltry, peanuts of a fine (for them)of £59.5Million
The simple fact is that they were conning us. They were tricksters.
One might normally be a little more careful with words, but this time they really were caught with their hands in the till, but apparently these hands and this till involve, thus far, no criminal penalty. What they did should carry criminal, imprisonable penalties, apparently it does not. At the very least Bob Diamond should pay with his job.
But, nevertheless, Barclays Bank (they have effectively coughed to this) was literally conning us - a giant confidence trick. They tried, and they lied to try, to show that the market actually had confidence in them when the market did not. The rates at which they were borrowing on the wholesale open markets indicated that the market thought they were a bad bet, along with all the others.
In order to stop a death spiral in confidence, they lied.
The coalition government's £1.4 billion Regional growth Fund has been severely criticised in a damning report (read here) by the National Audit Office (NAO). The report states that the RGF has failed to achieve value for money, spending as much as £200,000 generating a single job. And of particular concern the NAO notes that the RGF could have created thousands more jobs if the government had applied tighter controls.
Deputy PM Nick Clegg had previously claimed the fund could generate up to half a million jobs. I'd still like to see the calculations behind his claim as that figure is wildly out-of-line with the NAO's estimates. While the RGF may create 328,000 jobs in total, these are of various durations and the NAO estimates that only 41,000 extra full-time equivalent jobs could be created over the next seven years as a result of the RGF, at an average cost of £33,000 per net additional job (which is "broadly similar" to past programmes with comparable objectives).
When the first quarter GDP numbers came in even I was surprised, even though I've been warning that we're on the edge of a double dip recession for months. I had expected poor manufacturing figures and awful construction figures for the early part of this year to be offset by stronger service sector growth, and that overall the UK would have done just enough to avoid slipping back into official recession. That didn't happen.
Of course, the first quarter GDP growth figures carry a big health warning as they cover only 40% of the data and are a first estimate. They may be revised back upwards, as indeed they were in late 2009, but for now at least, it's official; we're back into double dip for the first time since the 1970s.