New economy gains ground in enterprise awards

Applications from exporters plummet as strong pound takes its toll on overseas sales, but the hi-tech sector comes into its own
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The Independent Online

The strides that Britain is making in the "knowledge economy" are reflected in this year's revamped Queen's Award for Enterprise, published today.

The strides that Britain is making in the "knowledge economy" are reflected in this year's revamped Queen's Award for Enterprise, published today.

The awards for innovation more than doubled this year, with 32 companies receiving the accolade, up from 14 in 1999. Applications for the award jumped to 285, from 163 in 1999.

But the award covered another year of pain for British exporters, with the pound's strength, especially against the euro, hitting companies that rely on sales abroad.

The number of awards in the international trade category, fell from 82 last year to 77, as the decline continued in applicants, which dropped to 477 this year from 1,300 in 1997.

Overall, 866 companies entered, up from 765 last year, and 166 of those were given awards - compared with 101 winners in 1999.

David Moore, Secretary to the Queen's Awards, said that given the improved quality of the applications, more awards were made. He said that the recommendations of a review last year, chaired by the Prince of Wales, were only partially implemented this time round. The full benefits of the review, the first substantial one in 24 years, would be felt next year, he said.

The review had resulted in the export category being broadened to "international trade" to recognise returns from international investment.

The technology category was turned into "innovation", to include the non-technical aspects of innovation, such as managerial and marketing initiatives.

From next year, the environmental award will be changed to an award for "sustainable development", to reflect a new emphasis on companies' social impact. This year, seven companies, out of the 104 that applied, won the environmental award.

Clear Channel International, which won the export award, makes street furniture such as bus shelters, public toilets and internet kiosks. These are supplied free to local authorities around the world. In return the company sells advertising space on the products.

John Ross, an international trade winner, is one of the few remaining master smokers in Scotland. It exports Scottish smoked salmon to 23 countries. The company has a labour-intensive product, using the traditional method of hand filleting fresh salmon, dry curing by hand and smoking over open fires in brick kilns.

George Cox, which can trace its origins back to 1906, makes street-fashion footwear. It won in the international trade category. Its big success is in Japan, which takes over 90 per cent of its exports - helped by the enduring craze for punk fashion. Over three years, exports have more than doubled and now represent more than three-quarters of total sales.

Jaguar Cars, now owned by Ford, took an international trade award. It was its sixth award, but its first since 1986. The award marks a recovery in Jaguar's fortunes, which suffered a downturn in the early 1990s. The car maker has worked hard on its quality and efficiency programmes, and was helped by the launch of a new sports saloon model last spring. Sales have grown by 50 per cent since 1988 and last year, 75,000 cars were sold - four-fifths overseas.

Manor Farm Ducklings, an export winner, is a family business started in the 1950s in Norfolk. It has been exporting since 1995, selling whole and portioned duck and geese. Its main markets are Holland, Germany, Denmark and Sweden.

The baby products division of the Cannon Avent group was a winner in the international trade and the innovation categories. The company has produced a breast pump, for expressing milk. The Isis pump does not need noisy motors or batteries and has two patented innovations, including a silicone cushion, which massages the breast. The pump is designed to simulate the baby's sucking to encourage the flow of milk.

Macallan Distillers, which has been producing malt whisky since 1824, won an international trade award, its fifth Queen's Award. The firm is based in Banffshire, with 37 employees. and sells to 50 countries, with the United States as its largest market.

Viagra helped the pharmaceuticals firm Pfizer to its third export award. The male impotence drug, discovered at the company's facility at Sandwich, Kent, helped take the international earnings of Pfizer's UK arm to £700m last year.

Despite Marks & Spencer's well-publicised problems on the high street, innovation abounds in its lingerie. The division won an innovation award for "Secret Support", a hidden liner inside vests, bodices and bodysuits that eliminates the need for a bra.

Zychem, a small coated-paper company in Wilmslow, Cheshire, won an innovation award for developing a special paper for the blind and partially-sighted, to enable them to feel diagrams. A special coating makes black lines on the paper expand on heating, allowing the blind to touch-read maps and diagrams. Philip Eccles, managing director of the company, says the idea was a by-product of Zychem's main business of producing expandable coating for the wallpaper industry.

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