There are a number of factors that undermine our expert efforts and yet we don’t seem ready to acknowledge let alone address them.  First, foreign ownership. We seem very relaxed about the fact that 61% of UK manufacturing firms are foreign owned. In a recent interview, business minister Baroness Neville-Rolfe claimed that 320 UK manufacturing businesses (nearly two thirds of this sector) employing over 500 people are now owned by foreign companies, i.e. with over 50% of their shares in foreign hands.

According to the Office for National Statistics (ONS), in 2014 foreign investors owned £1.7 trillion-worth of British companies – up nearly 10 percentage points from 43.4% in 2010 to 53.8pc by 2014. This means that foreign ownership has jumped £167.7bn over this five-year period – from £760.9bn to £928.6bn. Looking at a geographical breakdown, North America was by far the biggest owner, with 46% of all foreign ownership, European investors owned 26%, while those living in Asia held 16% of quoted UK shares. This means that decisions about the focus and priorities of UK companies are being decided in overseas HQ’s, automatically putting us at a disadvantage. Without doubt foreign investment is positive, but we should also recognise that many of these companies have a greater loyalty to the ‘home base’. Possibly a more centrally controlled sourcing and procurement process might ensure that these companies ‘feed’ their UK subsidiaries more actively.  Second, we let others get ahead. February 7, 2017, a train left Djibouti for the capital of Ethiopia, Addis Ababa. This was major news for the region as it is the first transnational railway in Africa and will cut the 4-day road journey to just 12 hours by train. The Prime Minister of Ethiopia, Hailemariam Desalegn, said, “This line will change the social and economic landscapes of our two countries.” Of great interest, from our perspective, was the role of China, which designed the system, supplied the trains and imported hundreds of engineers for the six years it took to plan and build the 466-mile line. Plus, nearly all the $4 billion cost was financed by China. Source: Andrew Jacobs, The New York Times.
So where, we have to ask, was the UK? Furthermore, China is designing its next generation of trains that can carry passengers at a top speed of 500 kilometers (310 miles) an hour and cargo at 250km/h, with wheels that can adjust to fit different track gauges used around the world.  Jia Limin, a professor at Beijing Jiaotong University has reportedly said that under an ambitious government plan starting this year, the country is developing trains that can run on a hybrid-propulsion system that allows higher speeds. Using the enhanced technology and expanded network;  “China will have the experience to operate high-speed rail networks in the world’s most diverse geographic and climatic conditions, from deserts to alpine plateaus to rainforests”, said Jia during an interview in Hong Kong. “That gives Chinese technology the unique ability to adapt to any condition anywhere in the world.” Third, we don’t all play to the same rules. When it comes to winning overseas contracts, we are not on a level playing field. The reality is that many countries give funding assistance to companies chasing major projects which gain cheaper funding with fewer restrictive terms (they are more open to risks) and over a longer term – not 14 years, but the 25/30 years needed to depreciate the costs of the services. Reading the Government websites, the impression is that things are moving ahead well in terms of exports. The reality we encounter when discussing the above points is very different with every possible objection or reason for not doing something being placed in our path. The attitude seems to be one of preserving the barriers to business rather than looking for solutions.
In addition, there is considerable confusion over interpretations of the Bribery Act 2010, in particular as to what constitutes ‘Facilitation’. Perhaps this is naivety on our part, but many UK companies have been burnt overseas and consequently are now hesitant about expanding their international scope.