UK Plc still hot stuff for investors

Britain remains Europe's most attractive region for overseas investment...

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Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

The UK has once again come out tops in Ernst & Young's annual European Attractiveness Survey (which thankfully judges attractiveness in terms of appeal for inward investment, rather than national vivacity or complexion - otherwise even Greece would destroy us). In other words, we're still the most popular European destination for foreign direct investment (FDI).

The survey found that Europe attracted 3,300 investments in 2009 - down 11% from 3,718 in 2008; the UK drew 678, creating 20,017 jobs. So while our former government was routinely slammed for doing its best to tax the hell out of our appeal to wealthy foreigners, we've managed to survive: Britain is still fiscally fit - at least compared to the rest of the troubled continent.

But while this shows that our capital is still a heavy-hitter as a financial services hub, our position is largely down to the strength of our relationship with America - the US is the main origin of FDI into Europe, and most of that comes via these shores. Good news for now, but perhaps worrying in the long-term: last year US investment in Europe dropped 16%, while China's investments in Europe rocketed by nearly 30%.

Meanwhile our overall FDI was down 1% on 2008. So if we want to remain queen of the investment carnival in years to come, we need to perhaps start two-timing America and flirt more with emerging economies behind its back.

For now though the survey represents a needle of good news for the coalition government, amid the haystacks of fiscal pain it faces. And having announced the cuts that will see it tackling its sizeable debts, the cracks are starting to emerge.

Business secretary Vince Cable has come out fighting for tighter takeover laws, saying that the government wanted ‘all shareholders to be empowered, the takeover process to be more transparent, directors to think about their wider long-term legal duties, and takeovers to be decided on the basis of long-term shareholder value rather than short-term speculation'.

These words may well have riled his new Tory partners. In the wake of Kraft's controversial $17bn hostile takeover of Cadbury, the Tories attacked proposals by the last government to impede hostile takeovers as ‘populist nonsense'. The fact that the Lib Dems were far more sympathetic was one area of pre-coalition conflict that was never resolved.

Takeover law is a potential minefield, and will make for a fascinating political battleground among our leaders. But if the government has learnt one thing from its predecessor it's how important it is to keep foreign investors on-side. It won't want to do anything to hasten losing that crown.

In today's bulletin:

Thiam's head on the block as Pru abandons AIA deal
UK Plc still hot stuff for investors
Chinese 'death factory' relents to workers
World cup matches could bring offices to a halt
Letters from Malawi: Not a high-flier

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