March 08, 2013
The House of Lords Committee on SMEs has called on the government agencies – UK Trade and Industry (UKTI) and UK Export Finance (UKEF) – to do more to ensure small and medium-sized businesses know where to go for help with exporting.
A new report, Roads to Success: SME Exports published by the committee this week, reveals that only 21 SMEs received help from UKEF up to August 2012.
The report calls for UKEF services to be better promoted – not just to small firms but to the banks that act as gatekeepers to the scheme. Unless banks are prepared to take on some of the risks of lending to exporters, it says, UKEF's initiatives are "dead in the water".
The UKTI does a good job with companies they support but the report notes that awareness of UKTI is low. It recommends that the UKTI work with Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs) to raise awareness. Other trade associations, such as the British Chambers of Commerce (BCC) and the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB), as well as banks and accountants, could also have a vital role to play in raising awareness of UKTI's services.
Access to finance for exporters is being hampered by centralised loan processes within banks, says the report. The transition from loan decisions being made by local bank managers to a centralised process driven by formulae has weakened SME access to bank finance. SMEs should also do more to explore alternative sources of finance.
Lord Cope, chairman of the committee, said: "We are calling on UK Trade and Industry and UK Export Finance to blow their own trumpets and promote their services for SMEs. Overall we are optimistic about UK SME exporters. But small businesses need help to export. That help is there but not enough SMEs know where to find it."