Jim Armitage: Brits are still basking in the heat of a thriving economy in Gulf states

Compared to more fashionable emerging markets, the Gulf states have enjoyed sustained growth

Simon Williams is tucking into a cold beer and toffee apples at his kids' school Bonfire Night. But, unlike me at my local firework fest, he's not swaddled up in scarf, hat and boots. Far from it. In fact, he's wearing shorts and a T- shirt.

Is he bonkers? No, just one of the estimated 200,000 Brits living in the United Arab Emirates.

"At this time of year it's perfect – 85 degrees in the day and just perfect, comfortable warmth in the evening," he says.

Mr Williams, an economist, works for HSBC in Dubai. Despite all those headlines and pictures of Ferraris and Audis being dumped with their keys in the ignition by expats fleeing from Dubai airport when the property bubble burst three years ago, he describes an upbeat mood.

"I've lived in Dubai for six years now and I have to say, the economies out here feel really strong compared with the kind of growth rates in the western economies," he says. "Compared to more fashionable, emerging markets, the Gulf states have enjoyed sustained growth for years."

Mr Williams has just co-authored a report into the Middle East region entitled Picking up the Pieces. It's a cautiously upbeat title, nodding to the impact of the conflicts recently ended or still raging across North Africa. His main conclusion is that, if you look behind the frightening headlines, there is an untold story of very strong economic expansion in the Gulf, and even normalisation of economies in the Arab Spring countries.

So it seems David Cameron picked a good time to go and shake a few hands in the Gulf this week. He was mainly there to peddle Typhoon fighter jets – controversial to say the least in countries not known for their strong democracies. But his visit to the UAE, Saudi Arabia and Jordan raised the profile of the region more generally for foreign investors.

Mr Williams admits his rosy report for HSBC seems counterintuitive, given the ongoing conflict in Syria and fears of an escalation of tensions with Iran, but he points out that the political situation in other countries is stabilising month by month, particularly in Egypt, where the new, civilian government seems to be in control. Aid is beginning to flow back in again and the debt markets are signalling a sharp improvement in investors' confidence to lend.

Meanwhile, take a look at the oil exporters, and you see some terrific growth rates. No surprise when crude is changing hands at $110 a barrel. As the populations of the UK and Europe get used to the idea of pretty much zero or negative growth in the coming months, his forecasts for Kuwait, Qatar and Saudi are all between 5.5 per cent and 6.5 per cent this year and none-too-shabby levels of 3.5 per cent to 5.2 per cent in 2013.

The temptation may be to just see these Gulf economies as one homogenous mass of head-dress wearing sheikhs, but that's far from true.

Qatar and Kuwait are massively oil rich and have very small populations to worry about. Faced with little poverty and welfare needs at home, they are free to invest their vast oil revenues abroad.

Saudi Arabia, on the other hand, may be very rich in oil wealth, but it also has a huge and restless population suffering from extremely high unemployment levels.

Dr Adeel Malik, a research fellow at Oxford University's department of international development, says it is crucial that Saudi engineers a more balanced economy capable of employing its huge, young population.

While we think of Saudi as a rich nation splashing its oil wealth around Belgravia and Knightsbridge, what it actually needs is western investment. Mr Cameron will have been spending most of his time discussing Tornados with them this week, but you can bet the Saudis were equally keen to talk about attracting British companies out there. Saudi is crying out for more private-sector businesses, manufacturing goods and offering services: anything to employ the locals when the oil price begins to fall.

To a great extent, the Saudi government is trying hard. It has undergone an epic boost in government spending for several years, with several big infrastructure projects getting off the ground. But that's not the same as getting large numbers of western firms to set up shop there and create real private-sector growth.

Dubai is another species altogether. With no oil wealth, the country has had to rely instead on becoming a service hub, creating industries like banking and tourism literally out of the sand. Western firms are already here in force, but the place is still growing fast enough to support more firms from the west with ease.

Sure, its financial centre still needs stronger regulation, and, as one local said: "Where would you rather be going to court, London or Dubai?" But it does big business, employing thousands of Simon Williamses. Meanwhile, Dubai still has huge wealth coming in from its monster port, which remains one of the busiest in the world despite the impact of sanctions against its major customer, Iran. And as for tourism, Dubai's hotels are rammed, with occupancy rates averaging 80-90 per cent.

The UAE overall, despite being more reliant on gloomy Western nations than all the other Middle Eastern states, is still expected to see growth of 4 per cent next year. Not bad, eh?

All that, and Guy Fawkes parties to boot. Time for more British execs to dust off their passports.

Despite Blair's bluster, we should do business in Iraq

With that shamelessness only a professional politician could muster, Tony Blair this week said British businesses owed it to the "sacrifice" of our troops to go and do business in Iraq.

Never mind it was your blundering wrongheadedness that dragged our brave soldiers out there in the first place, Tone.

He's almost stumbled on a truth, though. We Brits do indeed have a moral debt to make good for our actions. But mainly to the Iraqis whose lives and livelihoods we destroyed.

Western oil companies were quick to get into Iraq and extract the country's minerals, but what the country really needs is for firms to put down strong roots in partnership with local businesses for the long term. Such investments will pay off in rebuilding our reputation in the country, and could make us a bob or two too.

But just don't let Tony claim the credit.

Life and Style
“What is it like being a girl?” was the question on the lips of one inquisitive Reddit user this week
peopleDave Legeno, the actor who played werewolf Fenrir Greyback in the Harry Potter films, has died
Arts and Entertainment
Armando Iannucci, the creator of 'The Thick of It' says he has
tvArmando Iannucci to concentrate on US show Veep
Life and Style
Luis Suarez looks towards the crowd during the 2-1 victory over England
Life and Style
Swimsuit, £245, by Agent Provocateur

Diving in at the deep end is no excuse for shirking the style stakes

German supporters (left) and Argentina fans
world cup 2014Final gives England fans a choice between to old enemies
Arts and Entertainment
A still from the worldwide Dawn of the Planet of the Apes trailer debut
peopleMario Balotelli poses with 'shotgun' in controversial Instagram pic
A mugshot of Ian Watkins released by South Wales Police following his guilty pleas
peopleBandmates open up about abuse
Basketball superstar LeBron James gets into his stride for the Cleveland Cavaliers
sportNBA superstar announces decision to return to Cleveland Cavaliers
Javier Mascherano of Argentina tackles Arjen Robben of the Netherlands as he attempts a shot
world cup 2014
Arts and Entertainment
The successful ITV drama Broadchurch starring David Tenant and Olivia Coleman came to an end tonight
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Four ski officials in Slovenia have been suspended following allegations of results rigging
sportFour Slovenian officials suspended after allegations they helped violinist get slalom place
14 March 2011: George Clooney testifies before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee during a hearing titled 'Sudan and South Sudan: Independence and Insecurity.' Clooney is co-founder of the Satellite Sentinel Project which uses private satellites to collect evidence of crimes against civilian populations in Sudan
Arts and Entertainment
Balaban is indirectly responsible for the existence of Downton Abbey, having first discovered Julian Fellowes' talents as a screenwriter
tvCast members told to lose weight after snacking on set
Life and Style
More than half of young adults have engaged in 'unwanted but consensual sexting with a committed partner,' according to research
Life and Style
A binge is classed as four or more alcoholic drinks for women and five or more for men, consumed over a roughly two-hour period
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Money & Business

Solutions Architect - Financial Services, SQL, Stored Procedure

£55000 - £65000 per annum + BONUS + BENEFITS: Harrington Starr: One of the mos...

Senior UNIX Engineer (UNIX, Linux, Solaris, IBM MQ Server)

£62000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Senior UNIX Engineer (UNIX, Linux, Solaris...


£50000 - £70000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Business Analyst Consultant (Fina...

Programme Support, Coms, Bristol, £300-350p/d

£300 - £350 per day + competitive: Orgtel: My client, a leading bank, is curre...

Day In a Page

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting
Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

In the final part of our series, Chris Green arrives in Glasgow - a host city struggling to keep the politics out of its celebration of sport
Out in the cold: A writer spends a night on the streets and hears the stories of the homeless

A writer spends a night on the streets

Rough sleepers - the homeless, the destitute and the drunk - exist in every city. Will Nicoll meets those whose luck has run out
Striking new stations, high-speed links and (whisper it) better services - the UK's railways are entering a new golden age

UK's railways are entering a new golden age

New stations are opening across the country and our railways appear to be entering an era not seen in Britain since the early 1950s
Conchita Wurst becomes a 'bride' on the Paris catwalk - and proves there is life after Eurovision

Conchita becomes a 'bride' on Paris catwalk

Alexander Fury salutes the Eurovision Song Contest winner's latest triumph
Pétanque World Championship in Marseilles hit by

Pétanque 'world cup' hit by death threats

This year's most acrimonious sporting event took place in France, not Brazil. How did pétanque get so passionate?
Whelks are healthy, versatile and sustainable - so why did we stop eating them in the UK?

Why did we stop eating whelks?

Whelks were the Victorian equivalent of the donor kebab and our stocks are abundant. So why do we now export them all to the Far East?
10 best women's sunglasses

In the shade: 10 best women's sunglasses

From luxury bespoke eyewear to fun festival sunnies, we round up the shades to be seen in this summer
Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014: Lionel Messi? Javier Mascherano is key for Argentina...

World Cup final: Messi? Mascherano is key for Argentina...

No 10 is always centre of attention but Barça team-mate is just as crucial to finalists’ hopes
Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer knows she needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

18-year-old says this month’s Commonwealth Games are a key staging post in her career before time slips away
The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

A future Palestine state will have no borders and be an enclave within Israel, surrounded on all sides by Israeli-held territory, says Robert Fisk
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: The German people demand an end to the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

The German people demand an end to the fighting
New play by Oscar Wilde's grandson reveals what the Irish wit said at his trials

New play reveals what Oscar Wilde said at trials

For a century, what Wilde actually said at his trials was a mystery. But the recent discovery of shorthand notes changed that. Now his grandson Merlin Holland has turned them into a play
Can scientists save the world's sea life from

Can scientists save our sea life?

By the end of the century, the only living things left in our oceans could be plankton and jellyfish. Alex Renton meets the scientists who are trying to turn the tide
Richard III, Trafalgar Studios, review: Martin Freeman gives highly intelligent performance

Richard III review

Martin Freeman’s psychotic monarch is big on mockery but wanting in malice