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

Photo: Getty
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The UK press’s timid reaction to Brexit is in marked contrast to the satire unleashed on Trump

For the BBC, it seems, to question leaving the EU is to be unpatriotic.

Faced with arguably their biggest political-cum-constitutional ­crisis in half a century, the press on either side of the pond has reacted very differently. Confronting a president who, unlike many predecessors, does not merely covertly dislike the press but rages against its supposed mendacity as a purveyor of “fake news”, the fourth estate in the US has had a pretty successful first 150-odd days of the Trump era. The Washington Post has recovered its Watergate mojo – the bloodhound tenacity that brought down Richard Nixon. The Post’s investigations into links between the Kremlin and Donald Trump’s associates and appointees have yielded the scalp of the former security adviser Michael Flynn and led to Attorney General Jeff Sessions recusing himself from all inquiries into Trump-Russia contacts. Few imagine the story will end there.

Meanwhile, the New York Times has cast off its image as “the grey lady” and come out in sharper colours. Commenting on the James Comey memo in an editorial, the Times raised the possibility that Trump was trying to “obstruct justice”, and called on Washington lawmakers to “uphold the constitution”. Trump’s denunciations of the Times as “failing” have acted as commercial “rocket fuel” for the paper, according to its CEO, Mark Thompson: it gained an “astonishing” 308,000 net digital news subscriptions in the first quarter of 2017.

US-based broadcast organisations such as CNN and ABC, once considered slick or bland, have reacted to Trump’s bullying in forthright style. Political satire is thriving, led by Saturday Night Live, with its devastating impersonations of the president by Alec Baldwin and of his press secretary Sean Spicer by the brilliant Melissa McCarthy.

British press reaction to Brexit – an epic constitutional, political and economic mess-up that probably includes a mind-bogglingly destructive self-ejection from a single market and customs union that took decades to construct, a move pushed through by a far-right faction of the Tory party – has been much more muted. The situation is complicated by the cheerleading for Brexit by most of the British tabloids and the Daily Telegraph. There are stirrings of resistance, but even after an election in which Theresa May spectacularly failed to secure a mandate for her hard Brexit, there is a sense, though the criticism of her has been intense, of the media pussy-footing around a government in disarray – not properly interrogating those who still seem to promise that, in relation to Europe, we can have our cake and eat it.

This is especially the case with the BBC, a state broadcaster that proudly proclaims its independence from the government of the day, protected by the famous “arm’s-length” principle. In the case of Brexit, the BBC invoked its concept of “balance” to give equal airtime and weight to Leavers and Remainers. Fair enough, you might say, but according to the economist Simon Wren-Lewis, it ignored a “near-unanimous view among economists that Brexit would hurt the UK economy in the longer term”.

A similar view of “balance” in the past led the BBC to equate views of ­non-scientific climate contrarians, often linked to the fossil-fuel lobby, with those of leading climate scientists. Many BBC Remainer insiders still feel incensed by what they regard as BBC betrayal over Brexit. Although the referendum of 23 June 2016 said nothing about leaving the single market or the customs union, the Today presenter Justin Webb, in a recent interview with Stuart Rose, put it like this: “Staying in the single market, staying in the customs union – [Leave voters would say] you might as well not be leaving. That fundamental position is a matter of democracy.” For the BBC, it seems, to question Brexit is somehow to be unpatriotic.

You might think that an independent, pro-democratic press would question the attempted use of the arcane and archaic “royal prerogative” to enable the ­bypassing of parliament when it came to triggering Article 50, signalling the UK’s departure from the EU. But when the campaigner Gina Miller’s challenge to the government was upheld by the high court, the three ruling judges were attacked on the front page of the Daily Mail as “enemies of the people”. Thomas Jefferson wrote that he would rather have “newspapers without a government” than “a government without newspapers”. It’s a fair guess he wasn’t thinking of newspapers that would brand the judiciary as “enemies of the people”.

It does seem significant that the United States has a written constitution, encapsulating the separation and balance of powers, and explicitly designed by the Founding Fathers to protect the young republic against tyranny. When James Madison drafted the First Amendment he was clear that freedom of the press should be guaranteed to a much higher degree in the republic than it had been in the colonising power, where for centuries, after all, British monarchs and prime ministers have had no qualms about censoring an unruly media.

By contrast, the United Kingdom remains a hybrid of monarchy and democracy, with no explicit protection of press freedom other than the one provided by the common law. The national impulse to bend the knee before the sovereign, to obey and not question authority, remains strangely powerful in Britain, the land of Henry VIII as well as of George Orwell. That the United Kingdom has slipped 11 places in the World Press Freedom Index in the past four years, down to 40th, has rightly occasioned outrage. Yet, even more awkwardly, the United States is three places lower still, at 43rd. Freedom of the press may not be doing quite as well as we imagine in either country.

Harry Eyres is the author of Horace and Me: Life Lessons from an Ancient Poet (2013)

This article first appeared in the 20 July 2017 issue of the New Statesman, The new world disorder