Trading nation: ministers accept export targets will be hard to meet © Charlie Bibby
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When Queen Elizabeth II was born, the UK’s biggest industries included coal mining, steelmaking and shipping. In her 90th year the last deep coal mine has shut, steel plants are being sold for £1 and just a handful of British shipowners remain. But they have been replaced by a host of smaller, innovative and internationally focused businesses that are recognised every year in the Queen’s Awards for Enterprise.

Some 243 businesses received an award this year for their contributions to international trade, innovation and sustainable development. That is up on last year’s 141.

They are in sectors ranging from software development and medical device manufacturing to healthcare for the elderly and sports broadcasting.

There are also five individual recipients of the Queen’s Award for Enterprise Promotion.

Seven businesses received awards for sustainable development, with a further 92 awards presented for innovation. There were 150 in the category for international trade, up from 104 last year.

“We are a country full of exciting and innovative businesses that deserve to be celebrated,” business secretary Sajid Javid said of the winners.

There were six double winners, for both innovation and international trade. These included five manufacturers. That suggests the sector has a bright future in the UK despite manufacturing shrinking to around 10 per cent of the economy.

They included Peak Scientific Instruments, a Scottish company manufacturing laboratory gas generators for use in analytical testing, academic research laboratories and the food and drink industry.

JCB Power Systems, a division of the construction vehicle manufacturer, is also recognised for developing a new engine that emits fewer pollutants and uses 10 per cent less fuel, while Inciner8, which makes self-contained waste incinerators that can produce power for refugee camps, also makes the list.

One of the UK’s last shipowners, Liverpool’s Bibby, is also a trade winner. Its fleet of floating accommodation vessels are used in major projects around the world and have been particularly popular in Australia.

The UK government is desperate to encourage such businesses to address stuttering exports. Ministers admit targeting annual exports of £1 trillion in goods and services by 2020 will be a hard stretch. In 2015 exports were £515bn. Forecasters are expecting exports to be £650bn by 2020. The trade deficit in goods was £125bn but services posted a £90.3bn surplus, leaving the overall deficit at £34.7bn in 2015.

One company doing its bit to close the gap is Hoshizaki Europe. A subsidiary of a Japanese business, it produces ice-making and ice-dispensing machines that are sold to distributors or end-users primarily in Europe. It has been moving manufacturing to its Telford site from overseas and has invested in additional premises to prepare for expansion. Hoshizaki has also set up a research and development team in Telford.

Other manufacturing industries successfully exporting include Camira Group of Huddersfield, which designs and manufactures upholstery fabrics for London Underground trains among others.

The caring economy also features in the list, which includes an innovation award for Home Instead. This family-run business provides home care for the elderly. Visits typically last a minimum of one hour rather than the 15 minutes provided by local councils.

They include sitting and chatting and trips out, alongside practical help with bathing and meal preparation. And carers are matched to clients according to common hobbies and interests.

The company was founded by husband-and-wife team Trevor and Sam Brocklebank in 2005 after they could not find decent care when Trevor’s grandfather Frank needed support.

It is now a franchise with 175 offices, £100m turnover and 8,000 staff serving about the same number of clients. Mr Brocklebank says: “We couldn’t do this without our dedicated army of caregivers on the ground. This award pays testimony to their devotion to our mission to change the face of ageing in the UK.”

New industries are also represented. AlphaBiolabs started trading in 2012 as a DNA paternity, drug and alcohol testing laboratory. One good source of business is The Jeremy Kyle Show, a TV talk show that focuses on dramatic revelations by guests. It is filmed in Manchester, near the Warrington labs.

AlphaBiolabs has won an innovation award for a new laboratory process that dramatically reduces the cost and time of DNA analysis with results turned around within 24 hours.

Among the award winners in the software sector is TestPlant. It was set up by George Mackintosh in 2008 and its products are used by its customers to ensure the quality of software including mobile apps and other business-critical systems. Customers include Nationwide, the UK building society, BT and Walmart, the retailer.

TestPlant has automated the process of checking how easy an app is to use for humans. In the past five years it has grown from 12 to 31 employees. In January this year private equity investor Carlyle Group acquired a majority shareholding in the London-based company.

Many businesses have overcome local cultural as well as business challenges. Source Global Research, a female-led business, is doing very well in the socially conservative Middle East. It provides information on the $100bn global management consulting sector and has the top 20 consultants by revenue as clients. Some 19 of its 27 staff are female. It has offices in London and Dubai and has doubled sales in the past three years. Fiona Czerniawska, the founder, says: “There are many advantages to having a female-dominated workforce: meetings are extremely productive, there is less power play and a lack of grandstanding.”

Holland & Barrett, the health food retailer, won a trade award after building a successful international business. Sales across the chain’s 1,000 plus outlets were £574m in 2016, with £133m from overseas. Many UK retailers have hit problems abroad but the Nuneaton-based business trades in 12 countries, including 35 franchised stores in China. It has just announced a partnership with India’s Apollo hospitals to open up to 1,000 franchised shops in the country in the next five years.

This year’s winners include a range of young entrepreneurs. The next generation includes Bejay Mulenga, one of the five enterprise promotion winners. The 20-year-old entrepreneur started running a tuck shop at school when aged 13. He then franchised his model to other schools under the Supa Tuck label.

Winners can use the Queen’s Awards emblem in advertising, marketing and on packaging for five years.

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