The recently-formed Cole Commission has called for the combination of the UK Trade and Investment (UKTI) and UK Export Finance (UKEF) agencies into one entity to achieve better co-ordination and support of British exporters.

The commission, launched in October 2014 by Labour MPs Ed Balls, shadow chancellor, and Chuka Umunna, shadow business secretary, and Graham Cole, chairman of AgustaWestland, an Anglo-Italian helicopter design and manufacturing company, is carrying out an independent review on how the government can better support British businesses’ exports.

Their preliminary findings, focusing particularly on the work of UKTI and UKEF, invite the next government to send a clear message that “export promotion is a key priority.” This could be done, they suggest, by allowing the Ministry of Trade to directly oversee UKTI and UKEF unified under one roof, so as to increase the government’s control over the export agenda: “There is a glaring lack of co-ordination or coherence among their activities,” they say.

Britain needs no less than a cultural revolution to make exports embedded in business life and, even, education. Cole Commission

While these suggestions are for the UK government to discuss and implement, Gabriel Buck, commission member and managing director, head of ECA and capex financing solutions group, Barclays, believes there are realistic possibilities of this happening. “The UK government has the motive and, from my perspective, is keen to demonstrate a ‘joined up government’. The way that UKTI and UKEF are already working together demonstrates this. Moving it further together can only be a good thing,” he tells GTR.

An improved export credit agency should be diversifying its products, the commission finds, as “UKEF is too heavily weighted towards big-end sectors, with one defence order accounting for £2bn of support in 2012-13 when turnover almost doubled to £4.3bn.”

While the commission appreciates that UKEF has improved its range of products, and begun to focus more on SMEs’ needs, there is still more to be done: “Vital aspects such as risk cover for exchange rate fluctuations for SMEs are still absent,” they note. It also suggests introducing cheaper products to lower the transactional costs of lending for smaller borrowers.

The commission also calls for a “cultural revolution … to make exports embedded in business life and, even, education” so as to normalise the idea of doing business abroad, as well as for an increased use of digital know-how.

The commission will publish a final report following the UK general election in May.