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27th March 2024

Bold thinking needed to keep UK at top table

The British Chambers of Commerce has launched its Global Britain Challenge report to boost exports and channel overseas investment into the UK.

Among the 28 recommendations are:

  • The creation of a ‘Team UK’ to champion an updated ‘Brand Britain’ and show the world the best of what we can offer.
  • A change in mindset, so the UK takes a more vigorous approach to fighting for its future success.
  • Finally stepping out of Brexit’s long shadow, so politicians take bold decisions to make it work better and grab the opportunities it offers.
  • An injection of more investment into the UK by targeting the big, and growing economies, with the money and understanding to make the most of what we can do.
  • A greater emphasis on services exports in the UK’s trade deals.

The ‘Global Britain’ report will be published at an event hosted by Heathrow Airport, on Wednesday 27 March, at the Compass Centre, in Nelson Road, Hounslow.

It is the fourth of five policy documents from the BCC’s new Business Council, as part of the ‘Future of Economy’ project. The report draws on expertise from businesses of all sizes, academia, Chambers and think-tanks.

Its proposals have two aims; to raise the flow of foreign direct investment (FDI) into the United Kingdom and to increase the amount of goods and services we export.

It recognises that the UK is starting from a position of great strength – it is currently the sixth largest economy in the world, the fifth largest exporter, and has the third largest stock of inward investment assets.

The country has an embarrassment of riches – its universities, legal system, culture, creativity and can-do spirit are the envy of the world.

But none of this can be taken for granted. The UK is the only G7 country yet to regain its pre-pandemic level of trade intensity.

To keep its seat at the top table Government, business, higher education, and cultural and societal institutions must work together. Only then can Britain’s place in the world, and the world’s place in Britain be guaranteed.

Martha Lane Fox, President of the British Chambers of Commerce and Chair of the Business Council, said:

“Trade and inward investment are two vital pillars that hold up the UK economy. But despite new free trade agreements and a raft of other deals, the intensity of our exports and imports is lagging behind our main rivals.

“This is about much more than Brexit, it’s about the UK’s attractiveness as an investment location and our reputation as a trading nation in the world.

“But Brexit casts a long shadow. There is sometimes a reluctance among politicians to either recognise problems or suggest solutions, because of how they may be viewed either side of the Brexit divide.

“This must stop. Our politicians must be bolder in their decision making. They must set out a strategy on how we manage EU regulation and where, it makes sense, we diverge, so British business can benefit.

“The UK has so much going for it, and we need to make the most of the huge opportunities that presents. Rather than deciding strategy based on parochial political concerns, let’s decide on what’s best for the long-term future of the UK.

“That means taking stronger positions and negotiating better deals with the EU and the rest of the world, to champion our world leading services sector.

“We must also do more to improve the flows of investment into the UK, by going after the big fish – the nations with the biggest and deepest pockets.

“And it is crucial that we sell the UK’s unique offering and its many advantages to the world as loudly as can.”

Lord Mandelson, Chairman of Global Counsel, former British First Secretary of State and EU trade commissioner, said:

“I do not believe that future UK trade policy can any longer rely on the negotiation of free trade agreements. Recent experience shows that these agreements have become too shallow and optical with insufficient gains for the effort expended.

“I, therefore, think the next government will need to look at additional means of commercial diplomacy to create global opportunities for UK advanced services and manufacturing capabilities.”

Michael Hayman, Chair of the Global Britain Challenge Group, said:

“This report calls for the creation of a new ‘Team UK’ to champion and revitalise ‘Brand Britain’ by showcasing to the world the best of what the UK can offer inward investors.

“There is a world of choice for business and the UK is faced with competition from the entrepreneurial zeal of economies globally. That’s why we need to urgently focus on accelerating our position as a leading nation for foreign direct investment with a new and coordinated focus on presenting the country’s capacity for innovation.

“Trade has continued to change and develop, and we are more than capable of changing with it. The gear shift required is from an incumbent, to one of a challenger. The UK is a great country for business but too often, investors told us, we are seen as unpredictable and uncertain. They want to know where they stand and where things are going.

“The opportunity is to provide that clarity and certainty with a message to the world that the UK is very much in business and for business.”

Ross Baker, Chief Commercial Officer, Heathrow said:

“We must champion British exports and foreign direct investment into the UK to enable a thriving, competitive and resilient economy long into the future. As the UK’s hub, with exports worth over £100 billion moving through the airport a year, Heathrow is primed and ready to support the Global Britain Challenge recommendations.

“Simple, common-sense regulation that promotes exporting will help the UK retain its competitive edge and be seen as the country of choice to do business with.”

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