FORGING new contacts, building new relationships and getting a better understanding of doing business in China – all of these were pluses that a leading Basingstoke businessman gleaned from being part of a high-profile trade mission.

Stephen Blatchford, chief executive of leading prosthetics manufacturer Chas A Blatchford & Sons, was among the biggest British trade delegation ever to visit China last week.

The three-day visit was led by the Prime Minister David Cameron, and saw 120 business leaders visit Beijing, Shanghai, and the inland city of Chengdu.

Mr Blatchford said: “It was very busy as there was a full-on programme, so we didn’t get much sleep while we were there. As soon as the delegation arrived, it was right down to business for a full day of meetings.

“I spent the first day mainly learning about the Chinese health care system. One of the Chinese Government’s aims is to set up a Chinese version of the NHS and a care system to look after its aging population. From our point of view that looks good because it will cover rehabilitation.”

While in China, Mr Blatchford met up with his company’s Chinese distributor Lin Shue of Enjoylife Prosthetics and Orthotics as well as other business people to talk about closer Sino-UK co-operation.

Mr Blatchford was particularly impressed with the city of Chengdu, which has a population of 14 million.

“It’s amazing,” he said. “What is really impress-ive from a business perspective is that they have a huge amount of young people, with technical skills, and they have just opened a railway line which connects China to Eastern Europe and then obviously Western Europe. So goods can now be shipped from Chengdu to Britain in about three weeks.

“Chengdu was just awe-inspiring – the ambition the Chinese Government has for this place and the amount of money they are pouring in.”

While Mr Blatchford admits that the trip has not brought about any immediate direct benefits to his company, he said: “I think it’s helped us greatly increase our profile with our distributor and given her material to raise the relationship with us and her customers.

“Coming out with the UK Government clearly makes us look like we are an important company. It’s helped us to raise our profile and I think it’s given me a greater understanding of what the Chinese Government is going to do in the future for its healthcare systems, and also opportunities in some of the less obvious cities like Chengdu.”

During the trip Mr Blatchford spoke with Mr Cameron. “We had a brief chat about the company and what we do and the fact that we provided services at Headley Court.”

The rehabilitation centre in Surrey for injured service personnel was also a topic of discussion with The Duke of Kent last Thursday, who made a private visit to Blatchford’s, following the Queen’s Award presentation event at De La Rue, in Overton.

Mr Blatchford said: “He showed a real interest with what we do, particularly with the technology and the guys involved in that as well as with amputees.”