IN a fast-changing world, the last thing the UK can afford to do is stand still. A strategic vision is needed when it comes to trade and investment or else we will become increasingly irrelevant while our rivals build the alliances that shape the global economic future.
That is why I was delighted to attend an event showing a positive vision of a Britain open for business. UK Trade & Investment’s strategy launch was part of a reshaping of UK’s global diplomatic presence, laid out by William Hague, that will lead to new offices opening across some of the world’s fastest growing economies.
I wholeheartedly concur with the foreign secretary’s assertion that “our diplomatic network is the essential infrastructure for our foreign policy and our influence overseas”.
A modern commercial diplomatic network is vital to supporting UK business abroad and attracting investors.
I have been fortunate enough to receive the invaluable assistance of staff at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office all over the globe during business visits abroad.
These individuals provide the impartial local knowledge and access to valuable business networks that is so valuable to breaking down barriers for UK firms entering foreign markets.
Exports and investment have a crucial role to play in generating sustainable growth. Strengthening ties across international markets will fuel domestic recovery and boost productivity.
Exporters account for 60 per cent of UK productivity growth and firms that start to export experience, on average, a greater than 30 per cent uplift in productivity. Foreign direct investment has a similarly positive impact by creating jobs and competition.
There is scope for small and medium sized enterprises to lead on this area. Currently around 20 per cent of SMEs export. This is a higher proportion than in France or Germany but below the EU average of 25 per cent.
Linking SMEs up with venture capital is essential to achieving this. The government is trying to create the conditions for enterprise and this should benefit all sectors of the economy.
We have a once in a lifetime opportunity to get this right with just over a year to go until the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games.
The world will be watching us as we showcase the best of the UK and by working in partnership we can create a lasting economic legacy.
Michael Bear is Lord Mayor of the City of London.