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Improving export licensing - calling new exporters

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Government designers and developers are working to make export licensing easier for experienced and new UK international traders,  and they need evidence to help them do it

SPIRE, the faithful old system used to apply for export licences for controlled goods, software and technology, is reaching the end of its lifetime. And for the last few months a team in Westminster has been working on its replacement, a new service that aims to speed up and simplify licence applications, reduce RFIs (requests for information) during the assessment stage and shorten the time exporters have to wait to get the permissions they need.

In projects like this it’s vital that the designers and developers have serious evidence to back up the decisions they make. Thankfully there’s been no shortage of existing SPIRE users keen to give their input, on what they like and dislike about the current service and what they want to see retained or upgraded in its replacement.

But existing users are only one piece of the puzzle - the team also needs to connect with people thinking of exporting controlled goods for the first time.

The ‘permissions finder’

One of the key objectives of this project is to develop a system capable of replacing the somewhat polarising Goods Checker and OGEL Checker tools. These are the ways exporters currently work out what classification their items fall under, and what open licences they can use to export those items. It’s fair to say some people like these tools, while others consider them roughly as useful as a pair of paper swimming trunks.

The new service will incorporate what’s known internally as the ‘permissions finder’. This is a tool that allows exporters to answer questions about what they’re sending or taking out of the UK, and where the items are going, to establish whether the transaction needs a licence (and if so, which licences apply). You can use a prototype of the permissions finder, and all the details are here.

There will also be a streamlined application/registration process for licences, and a digital version of the end-user undertaking that currently causes no end of consternation for exporters in its paper format.

A request for help

The permissions finder, though, is designed for exporters without a wealth of experience of SPIRE, and people new to exporting controlled goods. The problem that the team have come up against is it’s hard to track down the very people they’re building the service for. It’s easy to find exporters, but not so easy to find people thinking about exporting controlled goods for the first time.

Are you thinking of exporting controlled or dual use goods? Perhaps you think this area is a bit of an ordeal and are wary of getting involved in such deals, though it’s important to note that dual use is a broad category, covering all manner of electronics, telecommunications, nuclear, navigation and aerospace equipment that you might export for civil applications, but are controlled.

If you’re an exporter without much experience of controlled goods, but you’re thinking of heading down that path, the export licensing team wants to hear from you. If you’d be willing to help with the development of a service that’s designed to make legitimate trade simpler and speedier, please get in touch with our user researcher, Andrea (

Development is currently approaching the private beta phase, so it’s a crucial time to get involved and you can have a genuine impact on the design of a new service that can help drive your business forward at an important time for British trade

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