The Prime Minister’s current tour of Asia has seemingly resulted in some important benefits for UK industry, helping to improve relations and raise the profile of our export businesses. This has come at an important time, given today’s announcement that the UK trade deficit with the rest of the world rose to £3.4bn in February.
David Cameron’s meetings with the Japanese Emperor and Prime Minister, and his visit to Nissan’s headquarters, was timed neatly to coincide with the announcement of a £125m investment that will create 2,000 new UK jobs. Similarly, the announcement that the UK will now be Japan’s first defence trading partner (after the USA) will help Britain’s defence contractors, while the PM’s visit to Indonesia was no doubt a bonus for Garuda Airlines, which has recently purchased eleven A330 Airbus aircraft, also helping to support employment in the UK.
The focus, however, as it frequently the case with these high profile overseas political visits, is on the promotion of our traditional industry sectors; most notably defence, aerospace and automotive.
It’s true that these are where the bulk of the jobs in the UK currently exist, and in financial terms they have historically made a major contribution to the UK economy. So, it makes sense to continue to promote them.
But this should not be to the exclusion of the many smaller UK companies that make up the bulk of economic activity, in many different and often emerging sectors – from IT and life sciences, to precision engineering, rapid prototyping, CAD, specialised electronics, instrumentation; the list goes on and on.
And herein lies the problem. It’s going to be SMEs with their ability to react faster and more creatively to fresh challenges that will drive the economy forward, creating new jobs and, in time, the larger wealth creating businesses of the future.
Yet Government policy, such as it is, is largely geared towards big business. When SMEs do make it onto the political agenda, it’s usually only as an afterthought and never as part of a long term industrial strategy.