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Department for International Trade help for British exporters hindered by lack of available data


© Chris Potter, Data Security, December 2013

The development of digital tools will help increase the number of British businesses trading overseas but poor access to data is preventing further growth.

Paul McComb, the transition programme director at the Department for International Trade (DIT), has said that pioneering work in digital services will help change the poor performance of British businesses exporting internationally. Roughly 11% of British businesses export internationally, a figure that has changed little over the past decade. When questioned by the International Trade Committee, McComb claimed that the lack of available data on exporting businesses is preventing further development.

Since its establishment last year following the EU referendum vote, DIT has been tasked with establishing new international trade agreements and developing export investment policy for Britain.

DIT initiatives include launching, a site that has brought together export advice for UK businesses that previously had been scattered over 19 different government websites. DIT has also introduced the “export readiness assessment”, an online survey to be completed by British businesses interested in becoming international exporters.

McComb, however, believes that the job is not done yet “It’s genuinely too early to declare any kind of victory in this space" he says. “What we haven’t done is thrown the kitchen sink at this and said, ‘It’s digital and we’re laying off everyone who did face-to-face’. We’ve kept both going.”

Crucially McComb feels DIT needs to overcome the issues it faces surrounding inaccessibility to data. “This is certainly one of the things that as a department we want to make serious inroads in – there’s a lot of analysis, there’s a lot of sample data, but there’s not a great deal of caseload data where you can go and reach in and say, ‘Show me companies who are exporting around the world on this sector’.

It is hoped that the department’s lack of data will be rectified by proposals for DIT to gain access to some HMRC customs data."All Whitehall departments are just data junkies, they do want this information to underpin and drive and shape strategy,” said McComb.

However, McComb placed emphasis on the fact that it was the responsibility of businesses to supply relevant data to DIT as a means of rectifying the lack of available data. It is hoped that increased data availability will support new data coming from DIT's new digital services. 


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