Keeping London at the forefront of global business
working with and for the whole UK
Setting a new agenda for UK trade
24 March 2021
Before Christmas I enjoyed taking part in a London First podcast to talk about the vital importance of attracting inbound investment to the UK in our post-Brexit, post-COVID-19 future. We spoke about a range of issues, from the need to revisit the messages we send out to the world about the UK’s proposition, to how we can capitalise on the UK’s status as a ‘soft power superpower’.
The UK public is more aware than ever about what trade and investment means for businesses and consumers; it has become a greater part of our national conversation, not just a greater part of the political agenda. According to an online survey we ran in autumn 2020, 90% of all respondents (and 93% of those from London) believed trade and investment was important or very important to supporting a collective recovery across the UK. 50% of Londoners (compared to 42% overall) said that providing access to new technologies, skills and innovation was the key benefit of greater trade and investment.
PwC has started a conversation — across regions, business, government and society — to examine what the UK can do to drive trade and investment harder and better than it has before. How can the UK reposition itself in global markets to respond to these challenges? How can it recast its role in a way that is relevant for future trade patterns? And how might we work together to deliver and prosper?
In November 2020 we held a UK Trade Summit. With over 120 senior participants from across the public and private sectors, including representatives from across all UK nations and regions, as well as some major international investors from the US, India, China and Europe, we gathered a wide range of different perspectives and ideas. We’ve just published a report that brings together the insights from the event, along with data from our survey, and conversations with government and business across the UK to develop these key recommendations, to set the agenda for change.
There was a strong appetite amongst attendees for refocusing on to the medium and long term trade and investment strategy for the UK. Our collective focus has been on the here-and-now: on the twists and turns of the Brexit process; on the down-to-the-wire negotiations on our future trading relationship with the EU; and on the practicalities of border protocols in the immediate aftermath of the end of the transition period. As businesses begin to implement processes to handle these changes, now is the time to raise our frame of reference from the here-and-now to the longer term.
The outcome was a four-point agenda for action:
Clarify and reinforce one vision for the UK: What does the UK want to be known for in global markets? How does it redefine its proposition to international customers and investors to support this new chapter of its development?
View our priorities through a trade lens: Trade and investment can play a critical role in solving some of the UK’s immediate problems, such as recovering from the pandemic, levelling up and achieving Net Zero. If we reinforce the idea that these priorities are trade opportunities, they will attract more capital and deliver better outcomes.
Play to our strengths and refocus our efforts: The UK’s future prosperity may lie in having a balanced portfolio of sector priorities. We should be doing everything we can to support sectors where the UK is already a leader (including but not limited to Financial Services), as well as aligning resources and investment behind some sectors of the future where there is an opportunity to build a leading position (for example Net Zero solutions)
Make trade and investment a team sport: More will be achieved if regions, the public and private sectors collaborate on shared goals. This does not come naturally to the UK, but the response to the pandemic has shown what can be achieved with a greater level of collaboration across different parts of our economy.
In a time of change, it feels right that we take a fresh look at how the UK, and indeed London, is performing in global markets. We have much to be proud of, and much to build on, but across all industries and markets the bar is being raised. We cannot solely rely on existing skills, historical relationships or legacy perceptions to drive future success.
This is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to recast our role in global markets in a way which genuinely differentiates us, to reset our priorities on the sectors that will drive long term prosperity, and to rework how we collaborate together to deliver trade and investment success.
We look forward to sharing further points of view on this agenda to help advance the debate and develop a plan of action for the months and years to come. To find out more, read our report Time for the UK to recast, reset and rework.
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