As we leave the European Union, the traditional August silly season for news has now been reduced to a few days if not hours. This week we saw the government publish the first tranche of its no-deal Brexit papers as well as its export strategy. Also this week students got their GCSE results. These students will be leaving university in 2023, when the end of the transition deal on 31 December 2020 will be a distant memory.

The ambition to raise exports as a proportion of GDP from 30% to 35% is, as the PM notes, a formidable challenge. To make Britain at the forefront of global trade we have to be looking to the future and building on our strengths. Design is our strength. Our recent research, The Design Economy 2018, showed that in 2015 the total value of exports where design had made a key contribution was £48.4 billion. Between 2013 and 2016 the value of design exports outstripped the UK average, growing at 1.6%, whilst the value of UK exports decreased by 3% in this period. Britain is a world leader in the total value of UK design good exports ranking sixth in the world. Our role as a global leader in design is reflected in the export strategy, with design being featured heavily in the businesses that Depart for International Trade (DIT) chose to use as case studies – from automotive design to architects.

Design Economy 2018 also highlighted figures that should be a warning light to policymakers at DIT. Since our previous Design Economy, published in 2015, Britain has fallen from fifth to sixth in the world. It may only be one place, but other countries are looking to catch us up. The growth in the value of design goods exports from Saudi Arabia, China and South Korea between 2002 and 2015 rose by 3457%, 793% and 658% respectively. In that time the value of British design good exports rose by 127%. The number of WIPO design registrations from China rose 1198% between 2000 and 2016, during the same period the number of design registrations from Britain fell by 58%.

Design will play a major role if we are to increase to reach the government’s ambition of raising exports as a proportion of GDP by 5%. To achieve this, we need to have the right systems, processes and, most importantly, people in place. Yet the number of students taking design and technology at GCSE continues to fall. This year 127,232 students took the subject, a year-on-year fall of 23%. This has to change if we are to equip young people with the right skills for the future economy. If design skills fade away, so will the 7% of exports where design makes a key contribution. This will make the challenge the government has set itself a near impossible task.

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