Belfast Telegraph

Export boom threatened by flight of investment overseas

By Sarah Arnott

Britain's booming manufacturing sector is set to ramp up investments this year - but they will flow overseas unless the Government improves the business environment, a leading lobby group will warn this morning.

Despite a slight dip from the previous quarter, both industrial output and orders remain at near-record growth levels, well above the long-term average, according to the quarterly poll by the EEF manufacturers' organisation.

Strong exports are driving the gains, with a balance of 24% of respondents reporting rises in the first quarter, and of 28% expecting rises to continue into the second.

The impact of January's VAT rise and concerns about public spending cuts was weaker than expected. A balance of 13% reported a rise in UK orders in the three months to the end of February, and 25% see further increases in the quarter ahead.

"The December to February survey shows another strong quarter for the manufacturing sector," Lee Hopley, the chief economist at the EEF, said.

The resurgent global economy is also the most immediate challenge for the sector, with price inflation already starting to be felt and both domestic and export prices expected to rise.

The biggest threat to the longer-term health of British industry is from the debate about where to target the investment finally coming through on the back of the recovery. "It is no longer a question whether companies will invest, but there is a real question about where," Ms Hopley said.

Last week, the EEF called for a "growth mandate" in the upcoming Budget. Concrete moves by the Chancellor on a range of issues, including tax and regulation, are needed to ensure investments are made in Britain, rather than in more business-friendly overseas markets, the EEF said.