HC Deb 07 June 1976 vol 912 cc903-4
16. Mr. Dooley

asked the Secretary of State for Trade if he will organise a pilot survey of medium-size firms to determine the manpower directly employed by them on export sales, promotion and administration, and the increase or decrease in the number of people involved in export work during the past five years.

Mr. Meacher

I am by no means clear that such a study would add very much to existing knowledge. It would be difficult to obtain accurate data on manpower on a historic basis and thus to determine trends.

Mr. Hooley

Does my hon. Friend agree that success in the export market depends very much on the quality and number of persons engaged in promoting and administering exports? Would it not be helpful to try to persuade the CBI to conduct such a study if his Department cannot be bothered to do it?

Mr. Meacher

I agree about the importance of the promotion of exports. It is significant that in the last three-month period for which we have figures exports increased by 4 per cent. and imports by ½per cent., which means that on an annual basis exports are increasing at a rate well into double figures. I do not think that there is direct evidence of export-manning being inadequate. But it is important to inculcate the results of previous surveys in order to get a more professional attitude towards exporting. I am glad to say that the British Overseas Trade Board and similar bodies are trying to introduce this approach by more educational and training conferences, particularly in this export year.

Mr. Higgins

Would not exports be better promoted by cutting down the number of surveys and the amount of form-filling which firms have to do so that they could get on with the job?

Mr. Meacher

The most important thing that firms could do, judging from my own experience of overseas visits, is perhaps to give greater status in the company hierarchy to export managers. The next most important thing that they could do would be to provide better after-sales back-up services and better communication, and to pay more attention to customers' needs—factors which in some firms, although not all that many, are sadly lacking.