In our ever changing world, the need for international partnership has never been more important, writes UK Minister for Trade and Investment, Lord Livingston.
The biggest challenges are the ones we share, from managing debt to making our economies as competitive as possible. Our challenge is also about building the right business environment to attract new investment and start-up ventures that will help the world back to growth.
Last month, I spoke after the Taoiseach at the annual IBEC conference in Dublin. Whilst I was there, I met a number of innovative Irish companies that are already operating in the British market, including SouthWestern, which is further expanding in the UK with a new base in Milton Keynes and Ireland-based Glen Dimplex, the employer of some 4,000 people across the UK.
Each year, thousands of overseas companies make Britain their preferred choice for both new and repeat investment, including increasing numbers of Irish investors. Significant numbers of people work directly for Irish firms or for their supply chains in the UK, and there are over 40,000 Irish directors of UK companies; the highest number of foreign directors from any one country.
In fact, the UK continues to attract more investment projects than any other European nation – an encouraging indication that we are creating the right environment for business. In the last 12 months, for example, the UK received 45 investment projects from Ireland, creating 1,800 new jobs and safeguarding a further 1,000 jobs.
However, we cannot take anything for granted. The competition from other markets has never been more intense and there is always more that we can do to strengthen and enhance Britain’s attractiveness to overseas investors.
Removing unnecessary regulation and improving the skills of our workforce is crucial, as is an ongoing commitment to make all areas of the UK attractive investment destinations. Other initiatives like the Patent Box, will help to support high-tech research and development; the Government’s entrepreneurs’ visa will help to attract the world’s leading firms and the best, most dynamic business people, while the recently launched ‘Sirius’ programme is identifying overseas and UK-based graduates and supporting the very best talent to establish new businesses in the UK.
Some of these changes are already taking place as we have underlined in our commitment to creating one of the most competitive tax regime in Europe. We have pledged to reduce the rate of corporation tax to 20% by 2015 – making the UK rate one of the lowest in the G8.
The UK ranks seventh in the world for ‘ease of doing business’, according to the World Bank, the highest ranking for a major EU economy. It takes just 13 days to set up a company in the UK, compared to the OECD’s average of 15 days and the world average of 35 days.
Irish firms, operating in the UK, are eligible for the same suite of export services as UK-owned firms when looking at other international markets. Inward investors can also bid for grants from the Regional Growth Fund for suitable projects.
It is our unique relationship that makes Ireland an ideal partner; and the UK a first step market for many Irish companies. Both the UK and Ireland are amongst the most open and globalised economies in the world. We already have an impressive record of collaboration, built on shared experience and values, supported by close personal, political and economic ties. We also have economies that are heavily interlinked. They benefit from a flow of people, goods, investment, capital and ideas on a scale that is rare – even in this era of global economic integration.
We only need to take a look at the figures. Ireland is one of the UK’s largest trading partners and the UK is Ireland’s largest export destination, where every week, we exchange one billion euro in goods. The UK and Ireland are working together to win exports in third countries too, with the first joint Irish-British trade mission taking place at the Singapore Air Show last month.
These fundamental links are perhaps nowhere more evident than in the presence of a large, valued and integrated Irish community in Britain and the increasing numbers of British people who now live and work in Ireland. But I want to see this develop further with more UK and Irish firms doing business in each other’s markets.
As Britain looks to a future full of opportunity, it will also build on its ever closer partnership with Ireland and seen with the State visit to the UK by President Michael D. Higgins in April this year. Britain will also capitalise on its world-renowned strengths as a location to invest and innovate.
As we look forward to 2014, the UK will continue to be an excellent country to trade in, and export from.