British businesses losing out on £48bn worth of export business

Research provided to the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills from Professor James Foreman-Peck, from Cardiff University’s Business School, has calculated that UK businesses have lost the equivalent of 3.5 per cent of GDP – or £48bn – from reduced capability to export, with the majority of this loss from SMEs.

Bigger enterprises find it easier to trade across borders and will often have a significant existing footprint in their countries of operation. However, smaller organisations have less resource to invest in specialist language skills and are more reliant on their customers speaking English.

Geoffrey Bowden, General Secretary of the ATC says:“Only being able to communicate in English creates a number of problems for businesses selling into other countries. First, it creates a competitive disadvantage because customers prefer to use their own language when doing business. However, several other significant issues arise, including the ability to develop strong business contacts, accuracy in any required legal documents and avoiding potential confusion, which can lead to mis-selling of products or services.”

As part of the campaign, the ATC has re-launched its hotline and database of language service providers from across the country that specialise in supporting SMEs seeking to export. The association also liaises closely with UK Trade and Investment and supports the government’s drive to provide training and increased awareness of the importance of languages when entering new markets.

Bowden continued: “The most alarming fact is that a significant number of smaller businesses simply do not know that they are losing out financially. The research from Cardiff University’s Business School shows that many of those people saying that they had no language or cultural difficulties when exporting also had no capability to communicate in another language, apart from English. This is in contrast to companies that did have a multilingual approach to business – they were much more likely to comprehend the challenges they had in communicating effectively and factor this into their long-term marketing plans.

“Awareness of the problem is the first stage in sorting it out. The second most important step is to turn to ATC members, that work on a daily basis with companies across the country to help them with realise their export objectives.”