SME exporters unaware of government support

Small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) are largely unaware of the export support available to them from government, according to a report from the House of Lords (HoL) Committee on SMEs.

Despite the fact that the UK's 4.8 million SMEs have a vital role to play in the Government's push for export-led economic recovery, the Committee found that awareness of the services offered by the two main government agencies for export assistance was low.

As the UK's export credit agency, UK Export Finance (UKEF) provides a range of credit insurance and financing products, as well as political risk insurance on overseas investments, for SMEs. UK Trade & Investment (UKTI) works with UK businesses to help them operate successfully in overseas markets.

The Committee found that:

  • just 21 SMEs had received help from UKEF up to August 2012
  • UKEF services should be better promoted both to SMEs and banks
  • a centralised loan decision-making process driven by formulae has weakened SME access to bank finance
  • UKTI must to do more to raise awareness of alternative sources of finance
  • the government should consider a specific fund for which LEPs could bid to support SME access to UKTI services
  • trade associations and professional advisers have a vital role to play in raising awareness of UKTI's services

The Committee's chairman, Lord Cope, said that the two agencies needed to do more to 'blow their own trumpets and promote their services for SMEs'.

Commenting on the findings of the report, Lord Cope said: "Overall we are optimistic about UK SME exporters. We have the advantages of the English language, of the fact that many of our citizens have links overseas and of a long tradition of trading worldwide. Meanwhile, the Internet is opening up new opportunities all the time. But, despite all that, small businesses need help to export.

"That help is there but not enough SMEs know where to find it."

Matthew Fell, director for competitive markets at the Confederation of British Industry (CBI), responded to the report by saying: "UK Export Finance has supported some firms to make inroads into high-growth markets, but the Government needs to step up its marketing so that more businesses are aware of what help is available and to deliver on its promises to enhance the support available."