Plethora of regional trade bodies 'diluting UK brand'

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Britain's efforts to secure billions of pounds' worth of overseas investment are being undermined by the "plethora" of regional bodies competing for business across the globe, MPs warn today.

In a stinging report, they said regional development agencies (RDAs) were wasting money, confusing overseas businesses and "diluting the UK 'brand'" by setting up a string of outposts around the world.

Members of the Commons Trade and Industry Committee called on the Government to overhaul the "bizarre" network of 42 overseas offices set up by RDAs to promote their regions to foreign business leaders.

A report, published today, said the committee was "deeply concerned" about the role of RDAs, as figures showed that eight regions had offices in the United States, seven had an outpost in Australia, and seven had staff based in Japan.

They warned that efforts by UK Trade and Investment (UKTI) to promote investment overseas might be damaged by the clamour of different regions all competing for business.

Peter Luff, the committee's chairman, said the Government should "urgently address" the role of RDAs abroad. He said: "There is confusion about who is actually responsible for trade promotion, and an extraordinary situation when it comes to offices abroad, which are competing with each other, confusing investors and wasting taxpayers' money." The report warned that there might be "wasteful duplication" of effort by the RDA offices and criticised ministers for allowing such a large network of offices to grow. "The decision to allow these regional offices seems bizarre to us, given the level of criticism their existence has attracted from all quarters of British industry."

The report criticised the Treasury for imposing too many changes in strategy and structure on UKTI, the body charged with promoting British trade overseas. MPs warned that the new government under Gordon Brown might lead to "further damaging upheaval".

The committee warned: "If UKTI is to have a chance of successfully implementing its current strategy, the Government, and in particular HM Treasury, must refrain from further adjusting the priorities and structure of the organisation, and allow it to get on with doing its job."

John Cridland, deputy director general of the CBI, said: "The competing activities of the RDAs and devolved administrations in overseas markets create real confusion and dilute the UK brand."