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FedEx Express: UK Export Epicentres Report


The UK’s export marketplace has seen significant growth since the government announced a pledge to double the country’s export value, with the aim of reaching the £1 trillion mark, by 2020[1]. In order to reach this ambitious target, several efforts have been made to help businesses secure their trade in fast-growing, emerging economies. Making the opportunities for British small to medium sized enterprises (SMEs) to “go global” even more feasible, it seems additional support is still required.

The release of the UK Export Epicentres Report by FedEx Express comes at a time when confidence in the international capabilities of UK firms is being increasingly recognised. The purpose of the report is to understand the extent to which this confidence is reflected in the regional SME community, using exclusive research to gain a deeper insight into exporting behaviour on a local level.

The study has produced some fascinating findings, revealing a number of regional cities that are noticeably bucking the trend when it comes to global connectivity. Through critical assessment of perceived image, reputation and geographical location of 26 cities across the UK, the study serves to paint a more vivid picture of the regional factors that come into play when trading overseas. With the influence and impact of “Brand Britain” our report aims to ensure British SMEs are given the best possible platform and support to succeed, helping to drive our economy forward.

Trevor Hoyle
Vice president Northern Europe operations
FedEx Express

April 2015

[1] Guardian, 17 January 2014


The UK Export Epicentres Report by FedEx Express canvasses the current behaviour and opinions of over 2,500 small to medium sized enterprises across the UK. Some of the key findings are as follows:

Q. What do current export rates look like in cities across the UK?

  • The percentage of SMEs exporting abroad is firmly in the majority, varying from 66 - 86% across the 26 cities surveyed. 
  • Bradford tops the table with an exporting rate of 86%, meaning the West Yorkshire city has the highest percentage of SMEs exporting anywhere in the UK.
  • In terms of average monthly export sales, Portsmouth has a sizeable lead ahead of other UK cities, recording £1.95m per annum in export sales. Derby recorded the highest SME export growth rates over the last 12 months.

Q. Where do UK SMEs export to?

  • Almost two thirds of exporting SMEs chose to enter a European country first when beginning their export journey.
  • Despite the US/Canada commonly being seen as a popular export market, just under a quarter (22%) of SMEs currently trade here.
  • The top three cities most likely to export to non-European markets are Aberdeen (41%), Norwich (39%) and Cambridge (36%).

Q. What impact does a city’s geographical location have on international trade?

  • 80% of SMEs who export believe that being a British brand gives them a competitive edge when it comes to exporting, rising to 90% of SMEs in Southampton, 88% in Portsmouth and 86% in Birmingham.
  • However, three cities were three times more likely than average to say their geographical location was a hindrance on international trade – Newcastle (16%), Hull (14%) and Norwich (13%).
  • Two thirds of SMEs view their city’s industrial heritage as a positive, peaking in Hull (81%), Glasgow and Oxford (both 79%).

Q. Does the future look bright for UK exports?

  • 94% of SMEs feel optimistic about the year ahead for their business with 8 in 10 believing their export sales will increase again over the next 12 months.
  • UK SMEs are broadly aware of the benefits of exporting, with 63% recording an improvement in financial performance, 4 in 10 having employed more staff and just over a quarter are now able to compete with larger players.
  • Cities where this help is most needed include Aberdeen (55% require additional support), Hull (50%) and Nottingham (47%).



Exporting Rates by City % of SMEs   Exporting Value by City GBP (per month)
Bradford 86   Portsmouth 162,298
Leeds, London, Manchester, Southampton 81   Norwich 94,733
Belfast 79   Nottingham 91,258
Oxford 78   Coventry 62,111
Leicester, Birmingham 77   Oxford 62,002
Cambridge 76   Leeds 57,096
Bristol, Derby, Portsmouth, Plymouth 75   Leicester 53,543
Liverpool 73   Liverpool 52,272
Edinburgh, Aberdeen, Norwich, Nottingham 72   London 50,424
Milton Keynes 71   Manchester 45,899
Cardiff, Hull 70      
Glasgow, Sheffield 68      
Coventry 67   Exports Outside of Europe % of SMEs
Newcastle 66   Aberdeen 41
      Norwich 39
      Cambridge 36
Reasons for Choosing First Market to Enter % of SMEs   Derby 35
Sharing a common language 51   Oxford 33
Least complicated market to enter 38      
Largest untapped market to enter 28   Sales Derived from Exports % of sales
Links with family / ancestry 25   Norwich, Oxford 39
Witnessed other businesses succeeding there 24   London, Leicester 37
      Coventry, Portsmouth 36
SMEs who Consider Location a Positive Factor when Exporting % of SMEs   Key Benefits of Exporting  % of SMEs
British SMEs 79   Improved our financial performance 63
Oxford 89   Helped us to employ more people 40
Birmingham 86   Encouraged us to develop new products and services 37
London 85   Helped us to compete with larger businesses 26
Southampton 85   Provided new opportunities for talented staff 23
      Improved staff retention levels 17
Highest Level of Optimism for 2015 % SMEs   Enabled us to open new premises / operations overseas 11
Leicester 36      
Southampton 36      
London 33      
Oxford 33      
Leeds 32      
Liverpool 32