Iain Wright, chairman of the BIS committee, has called the government’s target of £1trn exports by 2020 “pie in the sky” and “unachievable”, as UK Trade and Investment faces scrutiny from a panel of MPs to see if it’s doing all it can in the way of boosting British exports.
Parliament’s Business, Innovation and Skills committee will look at the department’s efforts to achieve chancellor George Osborne’s goal, as exports still linger around £500bn a year, with Britain’s trade deficit widening.
Wright announced the inquiry saying: “The government committed itself to £1trn of exports by 2020, but few expect this to be achieved. The secretary of state himself appears to believe the target is pie in the sky and unachievable.”
Earlier this month, business secretary Sajid Javid said that while the £1trn figure was “still our ambition”, he acknowledged it was “hugely ambitious”, and to hit it, the UK would need “annual growth never before seen in this country”.
Appearing before MPs on the Commons Business Select Committee, Javid said he “can’t tell you where it [exports] will be versus the target, although obviously I want it to be as close as possible”.
He added it “wouldn’t be wise for me to guess”.
Wright said the inquiry would look into whether UKTI was “fit for purpose” and “making the maximum possible impact” in increasing exports.
In Osborne’s 2012 Budget speech, he set the export target, reiterating the call for a “march of the makers” to help resettle the UK economy and increase sales of goods overseas. UKTI was meant to be driving the campaign.
Wright added that the government’s “lack of belief in their own export goal’ appears to be borne out by the plight of the UKTI – the very body charged with driving efforts to reach the £1trn target – which is facing the prospect of a significantly ‘downgraded’ role”.
The inquiry will explore whether new policies need to be introduced in order to make the target more achievable, as well as the level of support offered to small and medium-sized businesses, and how UKTI might work with other bodies to increase sales overseas.
It will also look at how UKTI can be held accountable for its work and how its performance is measured.
A UKTI spokesman said the department “welcomed” the inquiry, and it was “already taking a fresh look, with wider government, at how best to boost exports”.
The inquiry is inviting submissions ahead of the deadline of December 11.
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