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UK launching four regional trade hubs to boost exports

The government is creating four regional trade and investment hubs to boost economic growth across the UK.

Secretary of State for International Trade Liz Truss said on Tuesday that the hubs would be located in Edinburgh, Cardiff, Belfast and Darlington.

The aim is to boost exports by providing localised advice from export and investment specialists to firms.

But an expert says the proposed economic recovery plan is “the wrong way round”.

The government says the new hubs will provide support and advice to help regional businesses to access major trade markets and boost exports, as part its efforts to boost pandemic recovery.

“I’m determined to use UK trade policy to benefit every part of the UK. These trade and investment hubs will help this country to an export and jobs-led recovery,” said Ms Truss.

“They will mean we can channel investment into all corners of the country, and that exporters – whether they’re selling Scotch beef, Welsh Lamb or cars made in the North of England – have access to the expertise they need to sell into the fastest growing markets.”

According to recent government-led research, exports support 6.5m jobs across the UK, 74% of which are outside London.

The report also found that jobs directly and indirectly supported by exports pay around 7% higher than the national median.

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But new data from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) shows UK goods exports to the European Union fell 40.7% in January.

The economy is 9% smaller than it was before the start of the coronavirus pandemic.

Right concept, wrong execution

Justin Urquhart-Stewart, co-founder of Seven Investment Management and the Regionally investment platform, thinks the government has muddled up the order of its plans.

“The trick they’re missing is the concept is right, but actually what you need is to create the businesses, encourage exports and then provide the export advice,” Mr Urquhart-Stewart told the BBC.

“The capitals of the three nations and Darlington are not necessarily where the industries are.”

Justin Urquhart-Stewart, co-founder of Seven Investment Management
Justin Urquhart-Stewart, co-founder of Seven Investment Management says more direct investment outside London is needed to help businesses grow

He highlights major areas for manufacturing and export in the North West and the West Midlands, in areas like Preston, Manchester, Leicester and Sunderland.

“You should have investment hubs in those areas,” he said. “Darlington is a lovely place, but it doesn’t necessarily make the key export places they’d be requiring.

“You’re not exporting anything from there, so why are you giving the export advice?”

The good news, says Mr Urquhart-Stewart, is that the government is now focusing on businesses outside London.

But he wants to see far more direct investment outside London, like the 45 local stock exchanges of old, which provided local investment into local firms.

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“There’s no shortage of money, the problem is we’ve taken away the mechanism for local businesses to get funding from local investors,” he said.

“We’re really good at setting up businesses in this country, better than France and Germany put together – however, where we fall down is to provide the investment to go from seedling businesses to growth businesses.”

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