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Exporters fear slump as trade drops out of rebranded DTI

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CONTRACTORS AND consultants fear their exports will suffer as a result of the government's decision last week to transform the Department of Trade & Industry (DTI) into the new Department for Productivity Energy, & Industry (DPEI) But the new department's apparent emphasis on energy policy was welcomed by those critical of the government's long standing reluctance to make decisions in this area.

Tony Blair established the new department last week as he embarked on his post election reshuffle. It will be headed by secretary of state Alan Johnson.

Construction exporters fear Tony Blair has downgraded the government's export promotion activities within the new department.

'What concerns us is the fact that 'trade' has gone out of the [department's] title, ' said Nigel Peters, deputy chief executive of the British Consultants & Construction Bureau (BCCB).

'It is disappointing because even before these changes we were very uneasy at the way government didn't seem to be prioritising the trade portfolio.'

Peters added that UK Trade & Investment, the body that was run jointly by DTI and the Foreign Office , had already seen a 12% cut in its budget.

'We are seeing a real decrease this year in UK trade resources.

There are now 68 countries with no UK trade resources.' He said the BCCB would launch a major lobbying campaign with business group the CBI, urging the government to give more cash to promoting overseas trade.

But the new department's emphasis on energy was welcomed by others.

'Energy is now one of the three responsibilities within the department, which strongly suggests the government's policy of keeping out of energy policy for the last 15 years is about to change, ' said Malcolm Grimston, an associate fellow of think tank Chatham House.

A decision on a new generation of nuclear power plants is expected to be one of Johnson's first priorities. He is reported to support building more nuclear power stations.

A leaked DPEI document said this week that Britain must build more nuclear power stations if it is to reach carbon emissions reduction targets.

ICE energy board chairman David Anderson said the new department should launch a public consultation on nuclear power as well as a study of how to fund new power stations.

'There should be a public consultation on nuclear power so that people are made aware of what nuclear power can offer in terms of security of supply and cutting CO 2 emissions, ' he said.

Nuclear consultant John Large, who opposes new nuclear power stations, told NCE he feared that Johnson was a 'nuclear skinhead' and predicted that plans for three nuclear power stations would be put in place very quickly.

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