27 MAR 2020


The Coronavirus epidemic is impacting business across Britain and around the world. Campbell Keir outlines how British Expertise International is stepping up to help the industry address the challenge.

The impacts of the Coronavirus epidemic – both the urgent need to protect the health of staff and respond to the restrictions imposed by government – are affecting business across Britain and around the world. 

Exporters of infrastructure related services are no different; and given that most exporting companies also have UK operations, the levels of complexity to the crisis grow exponentially. 

On top of the urgent need to manage cashflow, protect staff, follow advice and maintain business continuity, exporters of infrastructure face additional challenges such as the urgent needs of staff and their families globally – whether expat or local, including repatriation, rotation or redeployment of staff in the field working on critical projects when borders are closed, and the struggle to maintain delicate supply chains in the face of both closed borders and insufficient authorities’ capacity to process required paperwork.

British Expertise International (BEI) has been working closely with our members, the wider UK supply chain and government to urgently understand specific impacts for the industry and build novel partnerships with relevant government departments to address them. 

This relates not only to companies exporting traditional hard infrastructure services such as Atkins SNC-Lavalin, Turner & Townsend or HR Wallingford. Many of our members export other services related to capacity building or international development – such as Crown Agents and DAI, focussed on international development, or Cambridge Education and Pearson, leading experts on education services globally. 

All are facing unprecedented, and often niche, challenges to their core business that we are collaborating with government and others to identify and help overcome.

The Department for International Trade and Department for International Development in particular have been active in reaching out to us and to industry to understand immediate issues for exporters. BEI, along with other membership and trade associations, have been pulling together to support this.

Much of the current BEI programme of activities has moved online and is focused on providing feedback to the government on issues that companies are facing in the short term. 

Recently, BEI has highlighted the challenge faced by very small businesses that are often innovators but can’t afford loans even with generous terms. 

The government welcomes industry feedback, and BEI will be reaching out to members to gather feedback on how the current measures are helping businesses and what more is needed. In particular, the government is interested in suggestion on rules and regulations that can be relaxed to help businesses in these challenging times.

Even before the dense fog of the immediate crisis has passed, there is a growing imperative to carve out some small capacity to consider the longer term needs of UK exporters – whether of hard or soft infrastructure. It is increasingly recognised that industry capacity to contribute to global largescale infrastructure projects – and through them the world’s operating systems – is an essential tool of influence in the 21stcentury.

The UK’s global infrastructure ‘offer’ is uniquely focused around the high quality, high value services provided by our world class consultancies providing specialist engineering, architecture, project management and related services. 

These, often smaller, ‘tier 2 & 3’ companies will likely be among the first victims of the current crisis, additional government support notwithstanding. So there really is an urgent need to consider how the UK wishes to recover, let alone build upon its global reach, post crisis – and the central role our infrastructure related exports play in that.

As we transition from immediate crisis response to recovery, future webinar events are being planned including feedback from DIT’s Her Majesty’s Trade Commissioners on the regional challenges and opportunities, how UK Export Finance can help UK exporters, the future of UK aid, and regional events such as on Azerbaijan non energy opportunities, amongst other themes. 

BEI, in partnership with Infrastructure Intelligence and other key national stakeholders, is already planning how to support the recovery of a set of industries key to the UK’s security, prosperity and future global influence.

Campbell Keir is senior advisor on infrastructure at British Expertise International.


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