The Prime Minister made his announcement on his visit to China, where he’s off trying to bolster our trade with the world's fastest-growing economy. He’s made quite the start – vowing to double UK trade to the country to $100bn (£62bn) a year by 2015, and predicting that his ambassadors, some of whom are accompanying him on his two-day visit, would sign more than 40 deals worth billions. Which would be a start, at least. Business ambassadors, your country is now counting on you…
The good news is he’s handed the shovels to an experienced bunch – with a wealth of business nous gleaned from broad sectors and geographical markets. Their job will also be to ‘assist UK businesses to recognise and exploit business opportunities’ overseas (so not just saying: ‘Here, that French bloke needs a hat – allez!’).
‘Their knowledge, skill and dedication to British business will play a key role in opening markets, increasing trade and encouraging investment,’ said the PM of his crack team. While it’s a sensible move to employ the powers of those with first-hand experience, cynics will no doubt question whether a group like this will be able to accomplish anything - and why the Government can't make a convincing case for British strength itself. This may seem like an overseas outing in the Big Society bus.
So, who’s on board? There’s a genuine range here – from old vets like Sir Anthony Bamford of JCB, Sir John Bond, Lord Digby Jones, Baroness Hogg and Lord John Browne, to younger entrepreneurs like Brent Hoberman, Tamara Mellon of Jimmy Choo, and Caroline Plumb of Freshminds – one of MT’s 35 Under 35 alumni. Perhaps surprisingly, ex-Lloyds chairman Sir Victor Blank - whose reputation took a bit of a hit after overseeing the costly HBOS deal - is also along for the ride.
The business ambassadors are charged with sniffing out opportunities and heading up educational sessions. They even get given homework when travelling on business – to attend meetings on behalf of UKTI to lobby for the removal of trade barriers, for example. The rest of it is schmoozing at events, and generally telling the Government what the heck is going on.
Our money is on them doing a good job. Indeed, they can’t do worse than some of their politial peers on the trip. Only last year education secretary Michael Gove was attacking China for being ‘a police state with thousands executed by government fiat every year’. Hardly the best start to a beautiful business friendship.