Collaborate to inspire export success
The importance of international trade in creating sustainable economic growth and employment is well documented and Scotland is no exception. These opportunities are embedded in government economic development strategies and as global markets become more accessible, they should feature more often in business development plans. Having ambitious targets is one thing, making it happen is another and we are still falling short in Scotland.
Guidance and support is never in short supply, however an overwhelming level of support often has a detrimental impact on growth. The volume of different organisations and associations holding various events, publicity stunts and an increasing supply of social media and web help can mean the landscape is now too cluttered, too confusing and most likely our return on public spending not at its optimum. Before we add another layer of initiatives, it is now time to step back and take stock.
Scotland’s current performance is particularly frustrating given our shared desire across the private and public sectors to make a difference and to ensure we optimise the return on the significant investment levels across all levels of government. There needs to be greater and smarter collaboration between government departments in Westminster and Holyrood specifically supporting international trade. There are many valuable and successful types of support that are sometimes lost in the overwhelming flow of information.
Scotland still has too few companies represented in too few sectors and, in terms of geographic reach, with the exception of Europe and the USA, our current performance is at best patchy. Critical to our success is unlocking the potential within our small and medium sized businesses (SMEs) and greater collaboration is key to this. Whilst SMEs are considered the ‘engine room’ of Scottish economic recovery, their share of exports is way behind our nearest competitors. We need to learn more from other countries, particularly in the Nordic region, who enjoy a significant share of international trade.
Within our capital city there is already a close working relationship between the Edinburgh Chamber of Commerce and the City of Edinburgh Council’s Economic Development team to make sure we optimise opportunities for inward investment and international trade. Our Colleges and Universities continue to reach out internationally, again providing greater opportunities and a catalyst to forge new business relationships. This global reputation as a leading city for education and of course festivals, is a great asset that we should be maximising at every opportunity. Scotland enjoys a unique position in global awareness and the business community needs to build even more on the recent success of our sporting events, festivals and growing tourism sector.
We are also experiencing unprecedented levels of investment in our transport infrastructure providing greater access to international markets through our ports and airports. We have a rich source of international talent residing in Scotland providing us with the detailed knowledge of other cultures and markets which is essential in understanding the needs of tomorrow’s international consumers. These and many other sources of business enablers are in place including a growing supply of quality advice from many sources in the private sector including banks, lawyers and accountancy firms.
At the heart of our potential growth, particularly in understanding the needs of our SMEs businesses is to actually try to cluster and coordinate what we already know and are willing to share. Greater collaboration and setting realistic expectations will lead to better outcomes and ensure we capitalise on the skills and relationships supporting stakeholders have. A more coordinated, albeit simpler, approach would inevitably lead to a much better use of public funds. More importantly, a growing number of current and new businesses would enjoy the success of being proudly based in Scotland and meeting the needs of a growing global market that is even more accessible and exciting as technology brings future consumers closer together across the world.