Fox (n): carnivore of genus vulpes; crafty person; scavenger; (vb) to confuse; -ed (adj): to be drunk.

Thursday, 19 July 2012

Hooray! Oh dear.

ARE you sitting down?

Of course you are, you're looking at the internet. You're at your desk avoiding doing any real work, or if you're reading this later you're at home on the sofa ignoring either your family, your loneliness, or your niggling desire for another glass and possibly all three. So I'm going to presume that you, like me, are already sitting down.

Which makes it safe for me to tell you the thing which I had to sit down to digest (If you're one of the weirdos walking around while reading this, now is your last chance to sit down before you read on).

There is good news.

I know! After biblical floods, riots, rocketing youth unemployment, a double-dip recession, a million women on the dole,  missiles on houses, nurses and police officers being laid off, hospitals going bust, banking scandals, a clone army of Pippa Middletons, massacres in Syria and more Olympic blunders than should really be possible, there is a reason to be proud.

For the first time in about 40 years Britain is selling more stuff to the wider world. In fact, we're selling 13.2 per cent more to those markets than we did last year.

Huzzah and hooray! Happy days are here once more, welcome to the eternal sunshine of how we pretend the empire use to be, and let's all look forward to seeing manhole covers manufactured in Smethwick on Beijing streets, cars from the Midlands roaring around Delhi, and Dyson vacuum cleaners being snapped up in Tahiti!

It's like Queen Victoria's on the throne again. Times of plenty are just around the corner, maybe we could all afford to get a butler and an elephant, and did you know it's all down to the government?

Since we joined the Common Market in the 1970s we've sold what we produced mainly in Europe, but for the past three months we've sold slightly more in places like South America, Asia and China, where they still have money.

Scott Corfe of the Centre for Economics and Business Research said: "A revolution in the orientation of British trade has taken place." Treasury secretary Chloe Smith added: "The government is working hard to drive export-led growth and make progress in emerging markets... this is positive news."

We're exporting more cars than we're importing for the first time since 1976, shipping out £6billion-worth of vehicles to break down in other parts of the world; we're selling 23 per cent more Scotch; export markets are expected to grow by up to 60 per cent in Africa in the next five years; and the next figures for the balance of payments - when you compare what the nation earns to what we pay for things - is likely to be in credit for the first time since 1997.

Except - and I almost hate to say this, because it makes such a change to have something positive to report - that's not quite the full story.

Manufacturing makes up less than a quarter of our economy. About 78 per cent of the money we make comes from services - business like insurance, tourism, retail and (ha ha) financial advice - which we provide mostly to the US.

And although selling more manufactured stuff is good, the main reason we're not selling it to Europe any more is because Europe is broke.

I wish the extra sales were because British cars are considered the best in the world, but it's not. People in Europe are less able to afford a Vauxhall Astra, so Vauxhall is looking for other people to buy them. And when they do, the profits go to General Motors in the US which owns the firm. Our other big car makers - Nissan, Mini, Land Rover - are all foreign-owned too.

It's hardly a new Empire, is it? We sell steel, vacuum cleaners, some chemicals and pharmaceuticals, and an awful lot of military hardware. The UK arms trade is worth about £5billion a year and this week alone includes armoured vehicles and dangerous chemicals sold to Syria when it's in the midst of a civil war.

More importantly, the Office of National Statistics reckons a tenth of our official exports are in fact due to VAT carousel fraud, when crime gangs claim VAT back from the taxman on goods they sell outside the UK and then disappear with the proceeds.

So if I have this right, our main money-making enterprises as a nation are 1) selling weapons 2) running dodgy banks 3) diddling the taxman.

It's less Queen Victoria and more Fagin's gang on the run with someone else's credit card. More importantly as financial services account for about 10 per cent of our economy and we're demonstrably making a hash of it, the dodgy banks aren't going to be quite as successful in the future.

Which leaves us with guns and the taxman. Neither is likely to experience a crunch any time soon, so I guess that's a spot of luck for those that can exploit them - which probably isn't you or me, sitting here looking at the screen and wondering what happened to the good news.

So here's some: they reckon the sun's coming out next week.

And if we can just seize control of the factory, we could probably export the Pippa Middletons too.

Four for a fiver.