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Service Exports - Clearly Visible

20/05/2015 15:15 BST | Updated 20/05/2016 10:59 BST

As a UK service exporter, I feel somewhat aggrieved. Overlooked and invisible.

Despite the strong and strengthening performance of service sector exports, we are often perceived as the poor relation to manufacturers. Indeed the government usually refers to the service sector as 'invisible exports', quite apt when considering where the focus of current investment is placed.

When the UK government talks about rebalancing the economy from consumption to exports, most people think of manufacturing. But exports of services are every bit as effective a way of rebalancing.

The latest export figures reveal there is no mistaking the contribution of the service sector. The UK's persistent trade deficit would be a decidedly worse picture if not for the surplus created by service exports - £7.5 billion in March 2015. In fact in 2014, export of services totalled £215 billion, the highest since records began in 1997. The reality is that the UK is heavily reliant on a strong service sector to balance out the economy and spur on long-term growth.

It is our consistent high quality that has established Britain as a pre-eminent global centre for services. As with German manufactured goods, people feel they know what they're going to get when buying British services. But this doesn't mean we can rest on our laurels.

The strength of service exports is founded primarily on two closely-related sectors: financial services and business services. Together the two sectors account for over half (55%) of all service exports.

But what of other sectors which are important in terms of their share of international trade? Travel and transport account for 13% and 11% of UK service exports respectively. And our burgeoning creative industries continue to go from strength-to-strength as they utilise the British brand overseas.

Yet this is only the tip of the iceberg. If we can convert the remaining untapped export potential of the service sector into a reality, it could go a long way towards eliminating the UK's trade deficit by 2020 - an ambition shared by the government and the British Chambers of Commerce.

For example, as China rebalances its economy away from investment and towards consumption, demand will grow for services, placing the UK in an ideal situation to take advantage.

Given that the service sector must be at the heart of Britain's export strategy, businesses and the government must work as one to promote innovation and productivity growth.

To give these high potential service sectors a leg up as they climb the export ladder, the Government should look to create mechanisms for partnerships between industry, universities and foreign governments. Investment in training and digital infrastructure is also crucially important.

Only then will the service sector discard its cloak of invisibility.