This blog post was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government

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Simon Atkinson

Deputy Head of Mission, Cape Town

Part of UK in South Africa

19th March 2014 Cape Town, South Africa

PM Trade Envoy sees GREAT partnership opportunities in South Africa

Baroness Scotland at the GUILD International Design Fair in Cape Town
Baroness Scotland with Trevyn McGowan at the GUILD International Design Fair in Cape Town

Guest blog by the Prime Minister’s Trade Envoy to South Africa Baroness Patricia Scotland

As the UK celebrated the extraordinary life of former South Africa President Nelson Mandela with a vibrant service in Westminster Abbey I travelled to a very rainy Johannesburg to begin the latest series of engagements in my role as Prime Minister’s Trade Envoy to South Africa. It is my job to raise the profile of South Africa in the UK and to bang the drum for UK business in South Africa.

On this visit I was joined by an East of England trade mission from the engineering sectors and education sectors many of whom were visiting South Africa for the first time.  There is huge scope for UK companies across Southern Africa in both these sectors and whilst a good number of UK companies are already set up in South Africa there is always room for more SMEs and innovative companies.

As on previous visits, I was struck by the depth of our existing trading relationship with South Africa alongside the constant need to renew and reinvigorate it. I met the new MEC (Provincial Minister) for Trade for Gauteng who welcomed us to the newly opened Gauteng Investment Centre in Sandton and offered hotdesking facilities to British businesses exploring the market. The MEC tells me he wants to work with established friends and is keen to drive forward the economic agenda particularly around ICT, automotive and jewellery.

12943770223_85f741ed1b_bIn Cape Town, at both a working CEO’s breakfast hosted by Accelerate Cape Town and again with development agency WESGRO, we were reminded of the shared ambition between the UK and South Africa in areas of high growth such as renewables, energy, technology and telecommunications.

One way we are investing in maintaining the relationship is through the reinvigoration of the British Chamber of Southern Africa. I managed to catch up with leading members of the Chamber and was pleasantly surprised by the diversity of the representatives which reflects the changing makeup of South African business. I am even more pleased to see how committed they are to strengthening bilateral trade.

Another priority area for both sides is science and research. I held meetings on telecommunications and with the Departments of Science and Technology and both highlighted the opportunities for partnerships in research and technology. UK companies, including some of those in the delegation, utilise first class technology in their processes and products, keeping the UK at the forefront of innovation. I also attended a rather chilling discussion with BT on cyber security looking at how vulnerable we all are of an attack – governments, business and individuals alike.  There were 2.6 billion attacks on the BT network during the Olympics/Paralympics, with at least one organised “hacktivism” attack every day.  No wonder the US government has raised the threat to no. 1 above terrorism.  There is a need for all governments to work together on this.  No one government can tackle this alone.

At the centre of many of the sectors mentioned above, is education and this was a theme throughout my visit.

I was pleased to be joined by a cross section of UK education and skills providers  in Pretoria where we discussed how the UK can help build links between industry and education and the South African ambition to upscale further education participation from 600,000 to 5 million.

Whatever the challenges in the current system, I was encouraged by the audience at my speaking engagement at the University of Johannesburg (UJ). UJ is a comprehensive institution, which means that it sits midway between a traditional university offering formative degrees and a university of technology that is more focused on vocational and technical programmes. I spoke to a room full of eager and enthusiastic students all keen to serve their country through the law.

Baroness Scotland at the University of Johannesburg
Baroness Scotland at the University of Johannesburg

Onwards to Cape Town and finally escaping the rain, I was treated to a wonderful African welcome at a gathering of women involved in the supply chain to Petro SA, South Africa’s National Oil company. The company is investing heavily in supplier development and the relationship with Petro SA offers really good prospects for the UK in the oil and gas industry. There are already 473 British companies registered on their list of suppliers.

International Women’s Day gave me the opportunity to engage on a subject close to my heart: the role of women in society. Early in the week, I was asked to speak at a dinner hosted by Business Engage, an organisation devoted to promoting the role of women in business. Led by the dynamic Colleen Larsen, Business Engage is an impressive group of women doing really good awareness work.  They will be in the lead for the 30% Club (ambition to achieve 30% female participation in the board room) in South Africa.

Later in the week I participated in an inspiring panel discussion with the South African Minister for Women, Children and People with Disabilities, Lulu Xingwana, around gender based violence. The discussion highlighted how religious leaders and civil society organisations are working in partnership to develop concrete plans to localise and take forward this new campaign in South Africa. This event also marked an important week for policy developments for women and girls in both the UK and South Africa, with the approval of Gender Equality Bills in both countries on the very same day, on Tuesday 4th March 2014!

A meeting with the World Design Capital 2014 team in their funky yellow offices in central Cape Town, gave me an opportunity to explore my creative side. UKTI South Africa is looking at how to participate in the launch of 100% Design in Johannesburg in August. There is so much more that we could do to promote UK design in South Africa and I was thrilled to have time to visit the Guild International Design Fair and see the amazing design and creativity in the War Horse puppets.

Baroness Scotland at the GUILD International Design Fair in Cape Town
Baroness Scotland with Trevyn McGowan at the GUILD International Design Fair in Cape Town

Finally a few moments to reflect on the week. It is clear that we still have a good story to tell in South Africa but also that we can’t afford to take anything for granted. South Africa is expanding its relationship with the BRICS and looking to other markets for its exports. We have to fight, and fight hard, to maintain market share and influence.

There is lots of follow up to be done and also lots more to do in the UK.  I will be back in South Africa in September accompanying the Lord Mayor of London on her visit. I am really looking forward to this and to seeing what outcomes there have been from the East of England mission and my contributions this week.

About Simon Atkinson

Simon Atkinson was born and spent the first 9 years of his life in New Zealand, before his family moved to the less leafy suburbs of Wallington, South London. After…

Simon Atkinson was born and spent the first 9 years of his life in New Zealand, before his family moved to the less leafy suburbs of Wallington, South London. After university at Leeds and 4 years teaching English and working for NGOs in Europe and South America, Simon joined the UK Foreign Office. His first overseas posting was in India, where he was a political officer covering issues like counter-proliferation and the relationship between India and its neighbours. He was also the Commonwealth Games Attaché during Delhi’s 2010 Games.

Cape Town is his second and current posting. His role here is dual hatted – as Deputy Consul General, he supports the Consul General manage the office, and as the Head of the Political Team, he covers the whole gambit of South African policy (though being based in Cape Town means this is heavily focused on domestic policies and Parliament).

Simon is married to Gina, who also works for the Foreign Office. They enjoy being in South Africa, as both a fascinating country to cover politically and wonderful place to live, allowing them to pursue their passion for the outdoors and perfect their ability to ‘braai’ (not that they’re under any illusion about how often they’ll get to demonstrate this skill once they return to the UK)!