The launch of Infrastructure Exports: UK (IE:UK) is, in theory, a wonderful initiative at a time when British firms need greater support on international trade.
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A group of the UK’s leading construction organisations will work collaboratively with government to identify and bid for international infrastructure work.
The UK industry is known for working in silos, despite excellent collaboration on certain one-off jobs as well as major programmes like Crossrail.
If the Department for International Trade is able to identify opportunities for the UK’s leading construction firms and provide them with access to finance through the UK’s export credit agency, UKEF, the opportunities are endless. Delegations visit the UK all the time, admiring the expertise of British engineering and seeking support for their own programmes.
As Crossrail chairman Sir Terry Morgan told me, the industry hasn’t been able to capitalise on these opportunities in a joined-up way until now. One CEO of a construction company working worldwide recently told me it has been like “banging my head against a wall” trying to get government support to help them expand into new regions.
Timing is crucial here: the government is finally getting proactive about a joined-up approach to exporting British construction as Brexit threatens to cause chaos. Hopefully international trade minister Greg Hands will look around the IE:UK table and recognise the industry’s ability, maturity and potential.
“Sir Terry says a priority for him is helping the UK’s outstanding second and third tier companies to spread their wings”
The likes of Balfour Beatty, Laing O’Rourke and Aecom aren’t on the list. But that may say more about their ability to operate independently overseas than it does about the strength of the infrastructure group in place.
Industry leaders told CN this week not to worry about the missing companies. Sir Terry says a priority for him is helping the UK’s outstanding second and third tier companies to spread their wings.
Former Balfour Beatty chief and now Systra COO Andrew McNaughton tells CN the group will work to identify opportunities for the wider supply chain. He added that one of the most vital aspects of the group was to open up the export market to the supply chain such as niche manufacturing and tech companies. The ability for the firms involved to attract finance through UKEF is vital, Sir John Armitt says, as is the ability to work collaboratively.
Will the group genuinely identify the right team for the biggest jobs overseas or struggle to avoid resorting to silos? This is a step in the right direction, which CN supports, but we urge those around the table to not forget about the other 99 per cent who may be well placed to help.
Joined-up approach can lead to overseas success