Philip Law at the British Plastics Federation has written to the Secretary of State for International Trade, The Rt Hon Liz Truss, raising concerns about the recent decision of the UK Department for International Trade to end Tradeshow Access Programme grants for UK exhibitors at foreign trade shows.
The British Plastics Federation (BPF) recently received a letter from the Department for International Trade (DIT) announcing the end of the Tradeshow Access Programme (TAP) scheme, a funding programme which provides grants of £1,000—£2,500 to UK SMEs participating at foreign trade shows. The scheme has been running in various guises for decades (they were previously called SESA grants), providing direct support to UK enterprises by offsetting some of the cost of exhibiting.
In his letter to the minister, Director-General Philip Law wrote:
“The TAP provides vital support for UK exhibitors participating in foreign exhibitions that promote UK exports – we know from experience that without this support many companies would not be able to take part. 80% of BPF members are exporters, so this change in policy on the TAP is of immense concern to our members.”
The budget allocated to the TAP scheme was extremely small compared to similar support provided by other countries and it has been shrinking for many years. In 2002, financial support allocated to UK exhibitors was almost £22m; by 2016/2017 it was just £9m and in recent years it was only around £6.5m. This huge drop in government support comes at a time when the UK needs to strengthen international trade.
Highly valued by businesses, TAP grants have been very successful. Research carried out by Kantar and commissioned by DIT, Export Client Quality Survey for Businesses Supported April 2018 to March 2019, which was published in July 2020, found as a direct result of TAP:
- 97% of businesses identified new business contacts
- 84% of businesses increased their marketing and sales activity
- 68% of businesses started to import or increased exports
- 59% of businesses increased their number of UK staff
- 53% of businesses were awarded a new or expanded contract
- 45% of businesses made R&D investment
- 44% of businesses made capital investments
The BPF has been organising British Pavilions at key plastics exhibitions since the 1930s and uses exclusive data to determine which exhibitions are important to the plastics industry. The trade association has been administering government grants supporting plastics companies at tradeshows for over 40 years and has been a Trade Challenge Partner (TCP) administering TAP grants since 2013. It has been found that without support from TAP grants, the number of exhibitors at international tradeshows halves.
Previous cost-benefit analysis of the TAP, commissioned by DIT (a London Economics 2008 study), found: “The total benefit of the programme in 2007/2008 amounted to £57.1 million. Given the programme costs of £11.2 million, the estimated benefit-cost ratio is 5.1”. This is a tangible ROI for the UK economy. Research conducted by the BPF has found the cost-to-benefit ratio is even higher for plastics companies.
Meech International CEO Chris Francs states:
“Meech International has been exporting for over 35 years (exports currently over 90% of group sales). We have used the TAP grants at various foreign exhibitions around the world to help us open up new markets successfully. We see tremendous value in the scheme, which enables SMEs to offset some of the cost of the stand with this funding.
“The availability of the TAP grants has allowed us to go to new markets earlier, where we wouldn’t have gone without the grant. We wholly support the TAP programme and would like to see more UK exporters use it to either start their export journey or to strengthen their presence in a foreign market.”
Astropol Managing Director Chris Wright adds:
“Astropol has had experience of exporting for several years and this experience concentrated around Europe. With the evolution of the business and following the June 2016 EU referendum, greater focus was placed on exploring further international trade opportunities. Astropol accessed the first TAP grant to exhibit at an important international trade show for the sector in the latter part of 2016. This was a new undertaking for the business and the TAP programme was pivotal in the decision-making process to exhibit.
“The experience was a huge success, helping cement existing relationships whilst giving access to several more contacts and an insight into many international markets. This experience has had the knock-on effect of the business exhibiting at further international trade shows since then, all of which have been supported by further TAP grant funding and has led to the appointment of distributors and agents in several international territories with tangible business wins.”
Philip Law has urged the minister to reconsider the decision to end TAP grants and is encouraging companies that have benefited from them to express their concern to their local MPs.