The Queen is dead, long live the King!
The brutal simplicity of these words masks the pain and grief, personal, national, and International, at the passing of our longest serving Sovereign, an individual whose inviolable, peerless dedication to service was an inspiration throughout the world. The instancy of the change when the code words ‘London Bridge is down’ were given, allowed no time for preparation for the many changes to the Carolean Age that would automatically ensue and did not even await the end of the period of mourning. Leading Members of Parliament swore allegiance to King Charles III within less than 48 hours of Queen Elizabeth’s death.
It had instantly become His Majesty’s Government.
The words of the National Anthem, the armed forces, HMRC, the currency and everything about life in the UK suddenly entered the Carolean Age. The correlation of this momentous change with the advent of the new Prime Minister, Liz Truss, whilst a coincidence, has a profundity of implication.
The new Prime Minister Liz Truss’ 2 years as Secretary of State for International Trade and President of the Board of Trade and year as Foreign Secretary have rarely produced a Prime Minister so deeply ingrained in UK exports and foreign relations. I saw at first hand her engagement with and interest in exporters and their issues and successes. She was at the DIT during a period of massive flux with our withdrawal from the EU, and the successful focus on the rapid rollover of dozens of Free Trade Agreements and engagement in new and extended agreements. It is worth remembering that until recently, export activities were undertaken within the Foreign Office and the experience of both is highly beneficial providing a rounded view.
The attraction of the Royal Family as a magnet for foreign visitors to these shores and as the epitome of the “Great” in the long-term global Export marketing campaign for all UK products and services cannot be overstated. As the active role of Queen Elizabeth eased over recent years, and as she reduced her overseas and then UK visits, other senior members of the Royal Family increased their activities to compensate. It seems inevitable that the new Prince and Princess of Wales will take a leading role in promoting activities, supported by other members of the family, whilst King Charles is focussed on constitutional, Commonwealth and more political visits all of which demonstrate the very real soft power of the UK establishment.
It remains to be seen whether the new Secretary of State, Kemi Badenoch, together with her Ministerial Team of James Duddridge and Connor Burns will closely follow their predecessors or, as with most politicians, seek to express the differentiation of their own influence. The liminal period of transition adjourned, at least in part, the public face of the hectic activity of takeover of the Department thus enabling the team quiet time for introspection and consideration away from the intense examination that welcomes any new appointments, allowed the team a greater opportunity to expatiate their plans.
So what can we expect the export policy to be?
One economic mantra on which Liz Truss has been very clear is to increase the rate of growth of the economy. We can expect this to be realised not just through taxation policies but also with trade and exports. Her target as Secretary of State was to substantially raise not only the absolute level of UK exports, but, more ambitiously, the percentage of GDP that exports represent. If this can be achieved without a commensurate rise in imports, then the nirvana of reducing the trade deficit could be achieved. Truss has also promised to build stronger economic and trade ties with the Commonwealth with a “New Deal” placing the Commonwealth “at the heart” of plans for Global Britain. This would build on the already strong relations with Australia, Canada and New Zealand as well as the advanced negotiations with India. The Commonwealth represents almost a third of the global population.
With the implicit, ingrained understanding of the value of exports to the economy, and the recent historic underperformance compared with our neighbours, it is a fair bet that the Prime Minister will bring her new power to bear on the DIT. It is less than a year since the most recent Export strategy – “Made in the UK, Sold to the World” was launched with its “Race to a Trillion” (GBP) and 12-point plan. This “action-focussed” plan had four delivery elements:
- Better support
- Better access to finance
- Better business environment
- Better data
And it is with the delivery of these aims that acceleration could occur. I was told, by someone senior enough to know with certainty, that the greatest restraint on activity was a constant battle with the Treasury for funds. If the new team, supported by the new Prime Minister, can unlock those funds then a real transformation in exporting prospects could materialise. It is certain that the Government is in a hurry to make a difference before the next election; to cram 5 years progress into 2 years.
One effect of the war in Ukraine and the resultant energy crisis has been the global flight to the perceived safety of the Dollar and the significant fall in the value of the Pound, and the Euro. The benefit of this is to make UK exports so much more competitive across the world. These factors being the clear case, then the prospects for exporters over the next years can rarely have been stronger. Whether an experienced company looking to increase sales abroad, or a small company looking for new outlets for their products and services, focussing your efforts on exporting makes sense.
There has never been more support available both from Government and a variety of Trade bodies, such as the Institute for Exports or Chambers of Commerce, and when combined with the massive global opportunity, it looks like a propitious time to be exporting. One thing seems certain, that King Charles, so widely experienced in supporting UK export efforts across the world, together with the Prince and Princess of Wales and other members of the Royal Family are ideally placed to continue that support into the Carolean Age.
Tony Goodman MBE is a successful exporter and has been doing so through a variety of different businesses. He is currently Marketing Advisor at Forest and Co who specialise in offering guidance on branding, exporting and sales: www.forestandco.com