Leaders October 2013

Opportunity Knocks

BCCJ and its members could greatly benefit from new initiative

Following the fantastic news that Tokyo will be hosting the 2020 Olympic Games, member firms are already positioning themselves to play a role in key areas as the project develops.

The chamber wholeheartedly supports this and will be playing its part to ensure British business has the maximum opportunity to contribute.

Our core mission has always been to support our members and their firms, from making connections to creating new business opportunities.

Therefore the invitation to the BCCJ from UK Trade & Investment (UKTI) to join the government’s Strengthening Overseas Business Networks (SOBN) programme has created a great deal of excitement.

If the initiative moves forward, it could provide a host of new opportunities and additional value for our members.

But such an undertaking should not be taken lightly. We have the interests of the chamber, of members and their firms, and of course potential clients to consider.

I want to make sure we move forward in a transparent and open manner, and that we make decisions based on a full understanding of what it will take to succeed and what it will mean for you, our members.

What is this all about?
The government has tasked UKTI with doubling the number of UK firms it helps by 2015. A core strategy for achieving this is to forge partnerships with entities, such as the BCCJ, with complementary networks and expertise.

We were therefore invited to apply for grant funding under the second wave of the SOBN programme. This funding could potentially allow the BCCJ to provide relevant business services and, ultimately, take over certain UKTI responsibilities in Japan.

The BCCJ has responded with an expression of interest subject to interim funding for an independent scoping study to assess how this would work in practice.

What would be the benefits for the BCCJ and its members?
Members could potentially benefit from an expanded BCCJ business operation, new opportunities to provide services to UK market entrants into Japan, and new member services.

The viability and extent of such benefits will be determined by the scoping exercise, including any impact on services already provided by member firms and the private sector.

What is the purpose of the scoping study?
This will be a comprehensive, independent study that will identify benefits and risks for the BCCJ and its members, and for UKTI.

This study is indispensable to determine if the BCCJ is in a position to go ahead, or indeed, should do so. There are three fundamental questions: Is the BCCJ in a position to take advantage of this opportunity? If so, what are the benefits? And what business model might work best?

What happens next?
If funding is approved, the study will be commissioned as soon as possible.

And then?
If the study demonstrates the BCCJ is qualified and able to take on designated UKTI responsibilities, the BCCJ Executive Committee (Excom) will vote on whether to proceed.

If the Excom votes in favour, the full BCCJ membership will be asked to vote at an Extraordinary General Meeting. If the membership votes in favour, the BCCJ will submit a full grant application to UKTI for the programme.

This application could be submitted as soon as early 2014. UKTI approval of the full application would then allow a build-up of capability and gradual transfer of responsibilities from UKTI to the BCCJ.

What UKTI responsibilities would be transferred to the BCCJ?
UKTI in Japan provides a broad range of support services and solutions for British exporters and investors, including reports, research, event management, trade missions and set-up support for firms.

With the second wave of grant funding, the BCCJ could gradually begin to assume responsibility for some of these services, based on the outcome of the feasibility study.

UKTI would remain responsible for larger-scale strategic campaigns and anything with a policy dimension, such as nuclear power programmes and defence and security collaboration.

What would be the risks?
There are a variety of risks to be examined. These include whether the service can be run on a commercial basis, the funding risks associated with a change of government in the UK, and competition from the private sector, including from member firms.

Again, the scoping exercise will determine whether identified risks are manageable.

How would the BCCJ find the resources to manage these responsibilities?
Approval of the full application could lead to a re-organisation of the BCCJ. This new structure would depend on the results of the scoping exercise and the consent of chamber members.

Where can I learn more?
We will provide members with updates on all key developments. In the meantime, you can email requests for further information to the chamber secretariat.

However, as BCCJ members will appreciate, there are a number of moving parts to this exercise, thus definite answers may not be immediately available.

And finally, with the chamber’s annual British Business Awards fast approaching on Friday 1 November, I ask that you reflect on the achievements that British business continues to make in Japan and nominate a fellow member firm (or yourself!).

Join us on the day in raising a glass for the chamber’s 65th anniversary.