Why are foreign investments in the UK rising?

Is it just the weather?

There is some good news for the UK taxman this summer. First, the country actually had a summer. It even fell on a Sunday, as a colleague pointed out. Second, according to the Office for National Statistics, this year Brits are happier. The Jubilee played its part, a report suggests.

And this is not all: while Jubileeing first and waiting for RB immediately afterwards, foreign investments have also increased, according to the Inward Investment Report 2012/2013 presented by government agency UK Trade & Investment (UKTI).

The UKTI says that while global Foreign Direct Investment inflows declined by 18 per cent, inflows into the UK experienced a 22 per cent year on year increase.

"The UK has received a major vote of confidence from foreign investors confirming that the UK remains a world leading business destination,” says Trade and Investment Minister Lord Green, adding that "attracting foreign investment is an important element of the UK Government’s economic and growth programme."

Between Olympic and Royal fever the UK reached the peak of its marketing capabilities in the past two years. But what supported this powerful business card?

The World Bank ranks the UK among the top countries for ease of doing business. It considers elements such as the 13 days on average to set up a business or the 24 hours necessary to register a company.

The UKTI claims that the removal and reduction of "red tape’" has already saved UK-based businesses approximately £1bn in the last two years. It also highlights the advantages of a flexible labour market and of a "highly competitive tax environment", with the main rate of corporation tax being reduced to 21 per cent in 2014 and 20 per cent in 2015 – the lowest rate in the G7 and the joint lowest in the G20.

A sunny picture to indulge in during the summer.

The strengths of this chapter of the UK economy are reflected in the identikit of its main investors: North America and Japan, but also India and China, across very different sectors. Altogether Britain has attracted 1,559 projects, 11 per cent more than the previous year and the UKTI estimates these investments have generated 170,000 jobs.

Foreigners are particularly keen in investing in software and computer services, which, with 17 per cent of projects, represent the largest slice of the cake. Financial and business services are the second most attractive, but the broad range of investments includes creative and media services, biotechnology and pharmaceuticals and renewable energy.

Emerging economies are investing from scratch and buying British companies, but it’s the comparison with other EU member states that can work as a litmus test of the real strengths of the Brits.

Investments from French and German companies have increased by 43 and 18 per cent respectively.

Despite a 5 per cent reduction, Italy is, together with France, the third foreign investor.

Italians are attracted by the political and economic stability. No wonder, as the waiting for the Royal Baby has been equalled only by the waiting in the past days for the outcome of the final sentence on former PM Berlusconi.

A legislation that encourages innovation is also considered a reason to invest in the UK, together with an open market that makes it easy to access talent.

"Italian companies increasingly see the UK as the ideal destination to grow, succeed and access international opportunities. The exceptional Italian results reflect the capacity for recovery of the country and of its profound entrepreneurial roots, as well as its industrial excellence," says British consul for Milan Vic Annels.

This sounds a bit as if we’ve got it all, apart from a couple of fundamental things, but as our governments are busy at the moment, we’ll come at yours.

Interestingly, the reasons given to support this choice highlight some historical weaknesses of other European countries (it is probably worth mentioning that the UK is in Europe as well) and some historical strengths of the British system more than a renewed economic epiphany.

So, after all this sun, let’s not forget the role of rain in growing awareness: the UK has been dynamic and successful in attracting foreign investors. But this is only a chapter of the economy and the Royal baby is going to cry a lot before becoming a king.

Photograph: Getty Images

Sara Perria is the Assistant Editor for Banking and Payments, VRL Financial News

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I was wrong about Help to Buy - but I'm still glad it's gone

As a mortgage journalist in 2013, I was deeply sceptical of the guarantee scheme. 

If you just read the headlines about Help to Buy, you could be under the impression that Theresa May has just axed an important scheme for first-time buyers. If you're on the left, you might conclude that she is on a mission to make life worse for ordinary working people. If you just enjoy blue-on-blue action, it's a swipe at the Chancellor she sacked, George Osborne.

Except it's none of those things. Help to Buy mortgage guarantee scheme is a policy that actually worked pretty well - despite the concerns of financial journalists including me - and has served its purpose.

When Osborne first announced Help to Buy in 2013, it was controversial. Mortgage journalists, such as I was at the time, were still mopping up news from the financial crisis. We were still writing up reports about the toxic loan books that had brought the banks crashing down. The idea of the Government promising to bail out mortgage borrowers seemed the height of recklessness.

But the Government always intended Help to Buy mortgage guarantee to act as a stimulus, not a long-term solution. From the beginning, it had an end date - 31 December 2016. The idea was to encourage big banks to start lending again.

So far, the record of Help to Buy has been pretty good. A first-time buyer in 2013 with a 5 per cent deposit had 56 mortgage products to choose from - not much when you consider some of those products would have been ridiculously expensive or would come with many strings attached. By 2016, according to Moneyfacts, first-time buyers had 271 products to choose from, nearly a five-fold increase

Over the same period, financial regulators have introduced much tougher mortgage affordability rules. First-time buyers can be expected to be interrogated about their income, their little luxuries and how they would cope if interest rates rose (contrary to our expectations in 2013, the Bank of England base rate has actually fallen). 

A criticism that still rings true, however, is that the mortgage guarantee scheme only helps boost demand for properties, while doing nothing about the lack of housing supply. Unlike its sister scheme, the Help to Buy equity loan scheme, there is no incentive for property companies to build more homes. According to FullFact, there were just 112,000 homes being built in England and Wales in 2010. By 2015, that had increased, but only to a mere 149,000.

This lack of supply helps to prop up house prices - one of the factors making it so difficult to get on the housing ladder in the first place. In July, the average house price in England was £233,000. This means a first-time buyer with a 5 per cent deposit of £11,650 would still need to be earning nearly £50,000 to meet most mortgage affordability criteria. In other words, the Help to Buy mortgage guarantee is targeted squarely at the middle class.

The Government plans to maintain the Help to Buy equity loan scheme, which is restricted to new builds, and the Help to Buy ISA, which rewards savers at a time of low interest rates. As for Help to Buy mortgage guarantee, the scheme may be dead, but so long as high street banks are offering 95 per cent mortgages, its effects are still with us.