Now we have another growth area. UK space companies have defied the recession, according to a report by the Oxford Economics consultancy, growing by an average of ten per cent a year from 2007. The report predicts that 2010 will also see continued growth.
Based on a survey of the activities of 260 leading companies, the report, commissioned by the UK Space Agency, says that the space business now has a turnover worth some £7.5 billion, with employment rising by about 15 per cent a year.
The sector recently set out a 20-year vision for itself called the Space Innovation and Growth Strategy, or S-IGS, which called on the industry to step up research and development spending but also for the government to increase investment, as well as making long-term commitments to buy its products.
If that happened, it said, the UK space sector could create up to 100,000 new UK jobs in space-related activity and grow revenues to £40 billion a year.
The space industry may still be something of closed book to most of us but its success is clear proof that the UK still has, in spades, the vision, expertise and skills that have stood us in such good stead on the business front over the centuries.
So if there’s a chance for the sector to boldly go where no man has ever gone before – with a helping hand from the British government, perhaps – that final frontier might just prove not to be so final after all.
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That said, there has been controversy over the latest suggestions from the Financial Services Authority (FSA), with the Council of Mortgage Lenders (CML) among those calling for the proposals to be watered down.
The CML has argued that implementing all of the proposed rules – including verifying the income and expenditure of borrowers, assuming interest rates will rise in future and restricting loans to more than 25 years – will restrict the ability of the mortgage market to grow in future.
The organisation claimed yesterday that the FSA’s proposals would lead to up to half of Britain’s 11.4million mortgage-holders being left either unable to obtain a mortgage in future or only able to borrow less than they needed. This would leave these individuals unable to move house or remortgage from an existing deal.
Now, it could be argued that the CML has a vested interest in ensuring the regulations on its members are not too onerous, and the FSA would be failing in its duties if it did not ensure lessons were learned from the events of recent years.
However, trapping a large number of people in their current mortgage deals is likely to create as many problems as it solves and it may be somewhat unfair to argue to those who were previously considered an acceptable credit risk that this is suddenly no longer the case.
While new regulations are certainly needed, it is to be hoped that the FSA will consider the needs of existing borrowers, who cannot be held entirely to blame for what the banks chose to lend them in the past.
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The World Bank says that a high place in the rankings – which are based on performance in nine different areas – “means the regulatory environment is more conducive to the starting and operation of a local firm”.
All of this is great news. But the results seem to be somewhat at odds with the results of another report on how the regulatory burden affects the smallest businesses.
Published yesterday, the Better Regulation Executive’s Lightening the Load report is based on the results of interviews with 500 micro businesses employing fewer than ten people.
It found that businesses were struggling to cope with existing regulations. Each new regulation or change simply adds to their problems it says, adding: “Most frequently we were told that they try to do the right thing, but felt that they were not supported and were unreasonably expected to cope with the same levels of paperwork and regulatory obligations as larger companies”.
The level of this burden is underlined by the comments of the executive’s chairman, Sir Don Curry, who says he has been humbled by the real “distress” caused to some business owners.
What emerges from the executive’s report is that small and micro businesses seem pretty low on the list of priorities for policy makers when new regulations are made, even though enterprises of this kind are where the government will be looking to drive economic growth and new jobs over the coming years.
The recent appointment of Lord Young as David Cameron’s enterprise adviser, with the remit of slashing red tape for small firms and pinpointing what needs to be done to help them grow, seems to be a step in the right direction in terms of lightening the load.
Let’s hope that our small firms don’t have to wait too long for action – although if a few hundreds or thousands more are snuffed out by a mountain of red tape in the coming months, at least they’ll have the comfort of knowing that the UK is the seventh best place in the world to close a business.
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So the government’s launch of a new and very straightforward health check to help business people spot early signs of decline on their own High Street would seem to be a Good Thing.
Also good to see is that the health check was produced with input of business organisations, traders and town centre managers drawing on their own experiences of High Street life.
It includes tips such as how to check on whether an area is attractive to customers, whether it offers good parking and public transport and looking at the variety of shops on offer, then helps them to work together to draw up an action plan to turn things around and put the plan into action.
Interestingly, the government’s guide includes some advice that goes against the perceived view of a High Street in decline. It says that pound shops, for instance, can drive footfall to other shops; some shops go, not because they are struggling, but because they are doing well and want to expand or reach a larger marketplace.
Anyone who has seen a favourite High Street blighted by empty shops and antisocial behaviour will welcome this new initiative, not least because the small, independent businesses that are the hallmark of an attractive and varied High Street are the kind of enterprises that the government is turning to to create jobs and drive economic growth.
We’ve all got a hand in making our High Streets a success by giving our local shops a chance, rather than always heading for the supermarkets, big city malls and out of town shopping centres. So if we don’t want to lose ‘em, perhaps it’s time to start using ‘em a little more.
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The research, which involved interviews with 1,204 eight to 15-year-olds across Britain, found that the average estimate for a pint of milk was £1.12, making the actual cost of around 45p seem like a real bargain.
When it came to stamps, the average cost suggested was £1.16 – rising to a hefty £1.92 in Wales – compared with an actual cost of 41p. Youngsters were also out of touch when it came to the TV licence, with an average estimate of the fee of just £10.48 rather than the actual figure of £145.50.
While this all might seem like a fun way for Halifax to gain some useful media coverage, the results of the survey raise some serious issues.
Without sounding like “It wasn’t like this in my day” grumpy old man, understanding the value of money at an early age will help to teach youngsters the budgeting skills that will keep their finances in good shape later in life.
If kids don’t understand at an early age how much things cost – nor that there’s work involved in earning the money to pay for them – their future financial road could turn out to be more than a little rocky.
The “buy now, pay later” easy credit culture has its fingers firmly in the pie of the global economic crisis and if that doesn’t galvanise today’s parents into teaching youngsters the importance of living within their means, then the financial pain so many are suffering now could all too easily be repeated further down the line.
There’s one piece of good news from the Halifax survey though. It found that 77 per cent of children wanted to learn more about saving. And that, as they say, is priceless.
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