Church’s hosts BFA and Minister for International Trade in Northampton
Our Chief Executive Officer, Lucy Reece Raybould, was recently invited to visit BFA member Church’s in Northampton alongside Minister for International Trade, Ranil Jayawardena, to discuss exports and the continuing challenges associated with international trade and the complex rules of origin associated with footwear.
Minister Jayawardena spoke to various members of the Church’s team, including Group CFO, Hamun Shah; Production Director, Hareesh Kallambella; and Export Manager, Megan Steele. Lucy Reece Raybould was also included in the meeting to represent the views of the wider footwear sector and advocate for BFA members.
“This was an interesting opportunity to speak to the Minster for International Trade directly and refer to the challenges and concerns of a prominent member of the British Footwear Association community. I would like to thank Church’s for their participation in this meeting of minds, which led to some interesting conversations about the future of trade and provided a forum to air our shared grievances,” Lucy Reece Raybould.
Minister Jayawardena was visiting Northampton – this historic home of shoemaking that’s recognised nationally and internationally – to reaffirm the Department for International Trade’s commitment to support businesses striving to enter the export market. He asked Church’s about their export journey and their experiences of trading internationally, before listening to concerns about tariffs and ‘rules of origin’ that have proved so challenging in the sector.
At the same time, Church’s aired its concerns, which are shared by much of the footwear sector, including the massive disruptions caused by Brexit, the additional costs and bureaucracy of trading with the EU and considerable IT changes. Elsewhere, conversation also turned to potential skill shortages that may affect the footwear sector in the mid- to long-term.
To round-out the conversation, Lucy prioritised the following topics to steer her conversation with Minister Jayawardena, who is the Conservative MP for Northeast Hampshire.
Tax Free Shopping Abolition
In 2019, ‘Duty Free’ business accounted for 29% of the footwear sector’s UK revenue. When the proposed changes to Duty Free shopping are introduced to the UK, businesses could lose some 65-80% of this revenue. Overall, this is expected to negatively impact total group sales by some 10%, around £6.5 million, and approx. 10% of annual production.
What is the likelihood of a U-turn by this Government as international and UK consumers will be driven to shop in the EU?
Footwear has been one of the hardest hit sectors during the pandemic and businesses need help to regain our collective position in the world’s footwear export rankings – the UK used to be 5th and we are now 12th! Without TAP grants, we know small and emerging companies will suffer, it is important the government help our sector survive and thrive. For example, the Spanish Government is covering the entire cost of a large number of Spanish companies attending UK footwear shows… why isn’t the UK Government committed to this level of support?
International Support for Footwear
Government has created an ‘internationalisation fund’ that goes partway in supporting the footwear sector. However, collective experiences with locally managed funds highlights how difficult they are to obtain, especially as imposed criterium can push the grants out of reach for certain businesses. As a trade association that understands the nuances of a specific sector, we are uniquely placed to attest to the viability of businesses and what they propose to use funds for. Why aren’t we part of this process? It is of grave concern to the BFA and gives us pause on the long-term viability of the scheme, not least because attendance at just one international trade show can cost upwards of £10k!
What other support can BFA members expect from Government beyond the Internationalisation fund?
E-Commerce International Support
The British Footwear Association is firmly requesting that Government help businesses address the challenges of ecommerce selling internationally. Can businesses expect support to expand their online activities and what does this look like?
In addition, we have concerns about Government support of a wide range of international ‘marketplace’ ecommerce platforms that BFA members are being bombarded with promotion for, backed-up by the apparent authority of a government department. Many of these sites are highly commercialised and, as of yet, have no evident buyer engagement. We would like to see Government consultation with trade associations on this issue.
We understand the breadth of membership needs and the changing patterns of buyer behaviour across our sector far better than individuals who see these platforms from their own perspective.
BFA members can read more about Lucy’s lobbying and advocacy efforts in our weekly Government Updates newsletters. Communicate your concerns with us via firstname.lastname@example.org.