The sun shines on UK trade with Turkey

There is a big opportunity to sell the British brand or 'UK plc'.

As Istanbul basked in warm sunshine on a day in the first week in February, thoughts turned to a UK Trade & Investment trade mission heading for Turkey at the end of the month. This will be my third experience of such a mission. They are always interesting and bring home the opportunities and realities of exporting.

The simple facts are: any company can export; Turkey offers opportunities and a springboard to local markets in Iran and the South Caucasus; and would-be exporters can find on-the-ground help through the UKTI at the British Consulate and the BCCT (British Chamber of Commerce in Turkey).

What many UK companies don’t seem to realize is that the world greatly values British skills and experience in design, engineering, energy, health, marketing, branding and education.  There is a big opportunity to sell the British brand or 'UK plc'.

“Turkey has a strong manufacturing capability and capacity, producing products for other companies and other brands,” Christ Gaunt, Chairman of of the British Chamber of Commerce in Turkey (BCCT), told The Business Year magazine in a recent interview, “but it doesn’t have international brands itself. The country wants to change.”

It is often said that the country’s cities look like perpetual building sites with the constant construction of new roads, houses, hotels, offices, hospitals, and airports. But these are good signs of infrastructure improvements. UK companies are already involved in projects to build the third Bosphorus bridge and Istanbul’s third airport. A big programme is under way to improve health care and provide new facilities.

The energy sector is just one of those pinpointed by the British Chamber of Commerce in Turkey as needing “both investment and technological capabilities to develop self-sustainable energy production”. 

There are also big opportunities for UK firms in R&D to help a wide range of business, according to Chris Gaunt. In fact, R&D expenditure in Turkey went up by 18.8 per cent in 2014 to reach US$6.1 billion, according to the Turkish Statistical Institute. 
Spending surpassed 1 per cent of the country’s total GDP last year, with private-sector outlay accounting for almost half, at 49.8 per cent.

In education, state schools, colleges of higher education, and universities need support for providing English language teaching and for examinations. And business English training is required for Turkish executives and managers of companies looking to export – especially as Mr Putin has slammed the trade door to Russia in Turkey’s face after a Russian jet fighter was downed by the Turkish air force. While the political situation in Turkey and geopolitical instability in the surrounding region are causes for concern, business life goes on, even if companies are now more cautious and risk averse than they were a year ago.

Next week this blog will bring more news about the state of the Turkish economy and the strengthening commercial ties between Turkey and the UK.


Caption: Chris Gaunt, Chairman of BCCT, at the Istanbul Stock Exchange

Life in Istanbul: passion for people

Istanbul is a simply wonderful city, rich in culture, history and with a passion for people and business.

In 2016 I’m spending a year in Istanbul – on and off – enjoying Turkish culture and food, and providing some part-time consultancy help with the English language to local business executives and managers. I took my first faltering steps as an exporter after participating in two UK Trade & Industry trade missions in the Februarys of 2014 and 2015.

Istanbul is a simply wonderful city, rich in culture, history and with a passion for people and business. Turkey is also a young (average age 30) and vibrant country. English people ask me, ‘Do you feel safe in Turkey?’ Well, I certainly did before this month’s terrorist suicide bomb attack near the Blue Mosque which killed 12 people, mainly German tourists. And I feel safer than if I was commuting daily to London or Paris. I just take care to avoid tourist destinations, like the Haghia Sofia (pictured), groups of sightseers, the American Embassy, police stations, and some demonstration hotspots (like Taksim Square during public holidays).

An article on the weekend of 16-17 January by Simon Calder, the Independent’s travel editor, reassured me. He wrote, in answer to a letter from a reader fearful for her family if they holiday in Turkey this year, that “the overwhelming odds” were in favour of safety. He went on to add a three-point a risk-management plan. This involved taking care of rip tides, watching out for traffic when crossing the road, and wearing a hat and taking care with the sea, the cars, and the sun. Of course, we are all being vigilant, avoiding tourist groups in major sightseeing areas (as I do).


The route to exporting

I must break off to listen to a webinar from the UKTI about planning an online business strategy. They follow that up shortly with another webinar on social media. I have to say that UKTI have provided huge support and help in my exporting efforts.

Exporting is for companies of all shapes and sizes, not just multi-nationals. In Britain it is not generally appreciated how much the commercial world respects brand UK, especially in design, architecture, project management, consultancy, creativity, culture, and much more. The world is indeed your oyster – or, in my case, my Istanbulkart (the local equivalent of an Oyster card).

English business must help students with literacy and numeracy skills

It is time for UK business to get more involved with the education process

Students with other languages often take more trouble to learn to speak and write good English than native English speakers. This has been rammed home to me by the recently published study on international literacy and numeracy by the OECD (Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development).

Scorn and humiliation have been heaped on the literacy and numeracy skills of adults in England and Northern Ireland. In this study of more than 150,000 people aged 16 to 65 in 24 countries, the UK (excluding Scotland and Wales) has scored poorly – 13th in literacy and 16th for numeracy.


The OECD finds that, across all participating nations, adults with the highest levels of literacy (4 or 5) are three times as likely to enjoy high wages as those with level 1. And the study reports that countries are more successful economically where businesses are closely and proactively involved with the education process.


In the UK, business are not proactively involved with education, despite the trend for internships (often unpaid – scandalous). 


BBC business editor Robert Peston has written in his blog: “… the OECD would argue is that, where employers have more of an impact on what is taught in schools and subsequently, both skills attainment and economic performance improve. This is not about companies bossing schools around but about a social compact between the private sector and the education system, where there is a mutual acknowledgement of the imperative of preparing younger people for the better jobs of tomorrow.”


Business must get involved

It is time for UK business to get more involved with education rather than just complaining when confronted with people from school and university who are ill-prepared for life and unfinished in their literacy and numeracy skills. In my old job as director of a marketing company we often employed school-age students as interns during their summer holidays, and we were impressed with their brightness, industry and productivity.


Sadly, we can’t trust the politicians to deliver. An Education Minister is in post for only 3 or 4 years, and his or her successor is bound to move the educational goalposts, even if they are from the same political party. Constant change is not a good business model and makes teaching very difficult. Let’s leave education in the hands of the teachers, supported by parents and businesses – politicians can have an overview but not control of the curriculum.


Literacy and numeracy rankings

In the OECD study Japan came out top both for literacy and numeracy, with Finland 2nd in each case. In literacy places 2 to 5 in the rankings were filled by the Netherlands, Australia and Sweden; in numeracy it was Sweden, the Netherlands and Norway.


One bright spot in the findings: the UK is rated much better in getting people to use their skills at work. Andreas Schleicher, OECD deputy director for education, comments that the UK and US is “very good at extracting the maximum out of limited skills bases”, but Japan is only “so so”. Individuals “that are highly skilled get a lot out of this, those that are poorly skilled pay a high price”, he said.


The study shows that England is the only country in the survey where results are going backwards – with the older generation better than the younger. It is worrying that England's 16 to 24-year-olds lag behind in 22nd place for literacy and 21st for numeracy out of 24.The study reveals that there are 8.5 million adults in England and Northern Ireland with the numeracy levels of a 10-year-old.