Crowning glory of British industry

QUEEN'S AWARDS A SPECIAL REPORT Martin Whitfield reports on the Queen's Awards and their role in modern industry
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The Independent Online
Exporters continued to deliver a buoyant performance in the Queen's Awards with a second successive record number of winners.

The highest level of entries since 1979 produced 140 export winners and reflected the country's best balance of payments position for the past 10 years. Both manufacturers and service companies are represented.

But the number of technology winners (17) slumped to its lowest total since 1981 and there were just six successes in the environmental awards, created three years ago to help achieve the "right conditions to encourage business to improve its environmental performance".

Concern at the low level of technology entries, down to 253 from 384 in 1992, is expected to prompt a major publicity drive in the summer to encourage companies to make applications. Although the number of environmental applicants increased marginally last year, the quality of entries did not match the first two years of the award's existence.

The export success was welcomed by the CBI, which said the Queen's Awards remained the most prestigious of around 80 awards available to British companies.

"When competition in the world markets is fiercer than ever, the need to promote the excellence of British products and the firms that make them has never been greater," it said. "The Queen's Awards recognises the genuine success companies have achieved and the CBI is keen to see best practice encouraged, promoted and rewarded."

The awards are popular with all types of company, with nearly a quarter of winners having fewer than 50 employees. The smallest winner, EuroTalk, has just increased in size from six to seven staff members, while ICI or British Aerospace measure their workforce in thousands.

Hugh Burnett, managing director of Cash Bases, an export winner with 180 employees, is typically enthusiastic: "The achievement of this magnificent award is proof that companies with focus and commitment throughout the organisation can be successful, even in periods of heavy recession."

Cash Bases, of Newhaven, Sussex, makes 8,000 cash drawers a month for a variety of customers, including French supermarkets, a Turkish bank and the Spanish Post Office.

Award winners are not just traditional manufacturers and include the creative as well as the high-tech. Sir Norman Foster and Partners, architects, won an award for work on the new Reichstag building in Berlin and Hong Kong airport.

Service companies represented 19 per cent of the winners, a lower proportion than their contribution to the balance of payments, but about average for past years of the Queen's Awards.

Lambie-Nairn, best known in Britain for those clever BBC2 and C4 logos, was successful for similar work abroad, including Tele 5 in Germany, TSI in Switzerland and Showtime in the United States.

"The UK is now regarded as the leader in creation of TV identities and commercials production and the award is a much appreciated recognition of this," Sarah Davies, managing director, said.

To win an export award, companies have to demonstrate a "substantial and sustained" increase in export earnings, normally over a three year trading period.

Robin Ebers, deputy director general of the Institute of Export, said there was some concern that the criteria were too general.

"The awards have received criticism in that the calculation of the achievement is based purely on turnover and nothing else," he said. "In one company that won a Queen's Award the export department was in a trailer at the back and completely divorced from the rest of the organisation."

Despite a preference for looking at the whole export function and its ability to deliver sustained sales, Mr Ebers said the Institute was an enthusiastic supporter of the Queen's Awards

"It is the most prestigious and was the first to give exporters the opportunity to show that they have achieved something," he said.

Nearly two-thirds of the winners are receiving awards for the first time, although 25 per cent are current holders, which means they have won an award in the past five years.

Several, including Psion portable computers, of London, and Bio-Rad, of Hemel Hempstead, which manufactures medical laser scanning equipment, have capitalised on previous technology awards with the export awards this year.

Although little can match the excitement of a small company winning an award for the first time, Sir Ronald Hampel, chief executive of ICI, said the thrill did not diminish even after picking up dozens of awards over the years.

Two of ICI's divisions won awards, one for environmental achievement for ICI Paints and its Autocolour product of low- solvent body shop paint, and one for export for the company's Saffil business, which makes alumina fibre, mostly used in the motor industry.

Sir Ronald said: "Although we have now received well over 60 Queen's Awards, it is very encouraging to see ICI's continuing technological achievement being recognised in the markets of the world."