The Queen's Awards: Only the Best Measure Up to a Symbol of Quality: Martin Whitfield Assesses Why the Awards Are Still Offering the Chance of Success to Small and Large Firms and Retaining Their High Reputation

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IF THIS year's Queen's Awards are a measure of the state of the economy, Britain's exports must be booming but technological innovation has fallen back in the wake of the recession.

The highest number, 139, of awards for export achievement have been granted since the Queen's Awards were established in 1966 but the total for technological achievement, 18, is the lowest since 1981.

According to the CBI, such a distibution of awards may indeed be a fair indication of what is going on in the British economy.

'The number of export awards is good news. Export order books have improved and are now approaching their best level for nearly four years,' said Andy Scott, the CBI's director of manufacturing industries.'

'The fact that there are fewer awards for technological achievement is not such good news. Exports must come from an expanding manufacturing base. Innovation in all its aspects - including technological achievement - will play a key part in achieving that'.

The exporters' success in winning awards is based on the highest number of applicants since 1979. Again entries for technology were down.

In its second year, there were eight awards for envirnomental achievements, down from 12 the year before on a total of 133 entries, compared with 240 last year. Officials believe the first year's figure represented an an unusually high volume of entries because of backlog of interest.

The fact that so many companies see value in gaining the right to use the famous Queen's Award symbol is a measure of its continuing prestige among organisations as diverse as engineers to biscuit makers and from insurance brokers to poultry breeders.

Ian Campbell, director general of the Institute of Export, said the awards were a good motivator for all employees as well as being useful in selling abroad.

'They are well perceived in many overseas markets. In the Far East and North America, in particular, they are seen as a mark of quality,' he said. 'It may not win the business - that will be done on quality, price and delivery - but it does just give that little advantage.'

The motivation for outstanding achievement is often varied, with companies being driven to seek new technologies or markets as well as deliberately seeking new horizons as part of a well organised strategy.

For example, three winners cite the collapse of the British coal industry as a significant factor in new efforts to win business.

Alasdair MacLauchlan, chief executive of the Anderson Group, makers of coal face cutting machinery said the company had been forced to increase sales abroad to compensate for a dramatic decline in domestic business.

Markets in Australia, America, China and Poland have been developed to take more than 60 per cent of the company's pounds 42m turnover. Even with the diversification, there had been redundancies among the workforce which is now about 600 at the main factory in Motherwell, Lanarkshire.

'An awful lot of money has been spent on restructuring which would have been better used to develop markets and improve our products,' he said.

Another company selling mining expertise is International Mining Consultants, majority owned by British Coal itself. Exports have increased five fold in the past three years.

'We are proud to have achieved such a strong growth by selling British mining expertise internationally at a time when the UK mining industry is undergoing such fundamental change,' said Brian Lott, the managing director. …