Export capital: trading overseas is in our DNA

Bradford’s DIY spirit has always stood it in good stead. My home city is entrepreneurial – as its 35,000 self-employed residents will tell you – hard working and self-sufficient. The business community knows that instead of waiting for others, it’s usually best to get on and do it yourself.

This is especially true of importers and exporters carving out opportunities for themselves around the world. Exporting is in Bradford’s DNA: our annual exports are valued at around £2bn. In 2015, Bradford was named Britain’s export capital after research showed that 86 per cent of small businesses in the city were selling products or services overseas – more than any other city in the country.

The Economic Strategy for Bradford District 2018 – 2030 sets out a plan to make Bradford a more vibrant, outward looking, globally connected city. If Britain is to thrive post-Brexit, we need more businesses doing trade overseas.

I think we are leading the national trend; according to the Office for National Statistics, in the year to June 2018 UK exports rose by 4.4 per cent – or £26bn – to £621bn. The services sector grew 2.2 per cent to £278bn, while goods rose by 6.3 per cent to £343bn. The Government is pushing this agenda. In the Budget the Chancellor said that the UK’s export credit agency, UK Export Finance (UKEF), would see its direct lending facility rise by up to £2bn meaning more financial support available for exporters.

This isn’t only businesses boxing up goods for export – although we have plenty of fantastic firms doing that – but innovative exporters of knowledge and services. Virtual College, based in Ilkley, creates online training and learning management software for organisations. It has trained more than 3 million people in more than 100 countries. Bingley-based Emerald Publishing produces nearly 300 academic journals, 2500 books and 1500 teaching cases which are used around the world. Founder Keith Howard OBE is an inspirational philanthropist in the region, with deep links to the city having worked at Bradford University before founding the firm which now has a global footprint.

There are outstanding companies shipping the region’s goods around the world.  Chemicals giant BASF manufactures more than 250,000 tonnes of chemicals from its massive site at Low Moor, and around 84 per cent of its products go abroad. In my Yorkshire Post column last week, I wrote about Seabrooks and how its well-loved crisps are being sold in Middle East and Australia. Bradford’s Maharaja Textiles has become one of the largest textiles wholesalers in Europe, exporting to Canada, Hong Kong and Australia. I could go on.

As chair of Bradford Economic Partnership, I know that one of the biggest problems for businesses looking to expand overseas is a lack of local knowledge. Different laws, regulations, customs and norms can be difficult to navigate. Throw in a different language and it can feel bewildering.

But local help is at hand. Leeds City Region Enterprise Partnership teamed up with private businesses last summer to set up the Export Exchange Patrons scheme. This is a network of local champions who will support businesses to expand into new markets by offering advice.

Chamber International, a Bradford management consultancy firm which helps UK companies to expand abroad, has recently formed partnerships with the British Centres for Business (BCB) in Dubai, which supports UK companies grow in the Middle East; and Resolve, a business based in North Yorkshire and the US, which supports UK firms in North America.

The US is the UK’s biggest export market. According to Chamber International, other top destinations for the Bradford exporters it works with include Turkey, China, India, UAE and Saudi Arabia, as well as other nations in centred in the Middle East and Asia.

The Economic Strategy for Bradford District 2018 – 2030 points to the region’s trade and family connections beyond the European Union, particularly in Asia and Eastern Europe.

This partly reflects Bradford’s diverse population, which is a source of pride and a great asset.  Black and ethnic minorities make up 36 per cent of the city’s population. I see a competitive advantage here for Bradford: we have tens of thousands of personal and family links with people across the world which we can leverage and use to build enterprise.

While the Government is trying to line up post-Brexit trade deals with other nations, our businesses know that they can’t afford to wait. Let’s build on our DIY spirit and do it ourselves.

  • Dave Baldwin is chairman of the Bradford Economic Partnership and chief executive of Burnley Football Club