Industry blames FCO travel advice for risking £1.5bn trade as other European countries move in

Advice from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office is risking the UK construction industry’s chances of helping to rebuild Libya, a leading trade expert claimed this week.

Graham Hand, chief executive of British Expertise - the leading private sector body for promoting the UK’s professional services abroad - hit out at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office’s (FCO) advice, which counsels against all travel to Libya and was last updated on 24 August.

Hand, whose organisation recently met with the National Transitional Council of Libya and represents members including Aecom, Capita Symonds, Gleeds, Mace, Turner & Townsend and the RIBA, said the UK was being “left behind” while business leaders from other European countries were in the country striking deals.

Before the uprising against Muammar Gaddafi’s regime, UK trade with Libya was worth £1.5bn a year. The news comes with the construction sector in desperate need of overseas work to offset a looming crisis in domestic work.

“We are completely hamstrung by the FCO travel advice,” said Hand. “Our members are confused as to why they don’t seem to be able to get support from a government which is always talking about why an export-led recovery is crucial.

“The German, French and Italians have already got to Libya. […] This is a manifestation of a nanny state introduced by the last government. It is designed to protect the most gormless tourist from harm.”

Hand added that because of the FCO advice, travel insurance could not be obtained and UK officials would not help citizens in difficulty in the country.

Leading engineer Hanif Kara, founder of Adams Kara Taylor - which has worked extensively in Libya - agreed Britain was too slow to secure business in such situations.

“If you are too risk adverse, you lose out - that is what happened in Iraq, where the Americans have cleaned up,” he said.

An FCO spokeswoman said travel advice was based on “objective assessment” of the risk to UK nationals and not on business considerations.