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A recent article in the Economist reported that 60% of the containers leaving British ports are empty - yet they all come in full.
In 1990 Britain was the world's fifth largest exporter of goods, now it trails behind Belgium in 11th place.
Of course this reduction in the trade of goods has been balanced by an increase in our trade of services.
We have run a surplus in the trade of services since 1966 and only the USA exports more.
We should celebrate the growth in our service industries which already make up a significant proportion of the West Midlands economy.
One local company doing well exporting its knowledge and services is software company, Delcam.
Writing on The Guardian's website last week eminent economist Robert Skidelsky considered the impact that automation is likely to have on wages and employment in the next few decades.
Professor Skidelsky acknowledges that intelligent machines including robots and the use of technology increasingly based on software that can take 'intuitive' decisions will reduce the demand for human beings. His analysis seeks to answer the question as to what will be the typical working pattern for people who exist in a world that is increasingly dominated by machines.
There is no doubt that such machines will play an increasingly dominant role in our everyday lives. For those of us who grew up in the 1960s and 70s we live in a world that would have seemed futuristic and, of course, unthinkingly use devices that featured on that wonderful BBC TV programme Tomorrow's World which ran for 38 years between 1965 and 2003.
There was a sense that new technology and computers would liberate us from the mundane chores and allow greater freedom to do the things that we enjoyed in our leisure time.
Much has been made of our position as the world's sixth largest producer and provider of low-carbon goods and services. But there are signs we are faltering. Manufacturing, the largest slice of activity in the sector, contracted in 2010/11 while China, the US and others are experiencing rapid growth in this sector.
We now have the long awaited plans for reforming the UK banking sector in particular safeguards to try to make it harder for the government to end up on the hook for a big bank and all its risky investment business going down bust.
Like any academic subject, organisational strategy is taught on the basis of imparting certain principles.
Almost all strategy textbooks are usually replete with a number of case studies of what happens 'in practice'.
The standard belief is strategists use examples presented in such case studies to consider emulating characteristics which will enable their organisations to enjoy success.
Equally, such examples may also be used to learn to avoid doing whatever was considered instrumental in either undermining success or worse, causing failure.
The reality is that the causes of organisational success or failure are neither simple nor logical. As I happily acknowledge - and I have written a textbook on strategic management - the search for definitive answers is at best erroneous and worse can be entirely misleading.
Tom Peters in his early 1990s presentation 'Crazy times, crazy organisations' stated then that the only certainty was uncertainty.
My interpretation was, if you cannot predict what will happen next, do something radical.
The trouble is, most strategists don't tend to do 'crazy' and prefer to play safe; it avoids taking risky decisions.
So, what do we make of Apple the shares of which have dropped pretty dramatically last week?
The government has finally responded to the Frost/Black review of sickness absence recommendations which was published back in November 2011. The initial review was aimed at making a step change in the issue of tackling both short and long term absence, a problem that still costs the UK economy large sums each year
Hello, it's a pleasure to be here in the West Midlands to lead our UK Trade and Investment team and help support companies in the region to internationalise. We're here to help and want to increase the support we give to companies to help them explore new markets and grow their exports in their current markets.
In the Autumn Statement, UKTI was given an increase in budget of £70 million per year. For the West Midlands, this means an additional seven people in the region supporting business from April, and a significant increase in the size and flexibility of the financial support we can give to exporters.
There is plenty of opportunity to trade, a market for everyone and support to get you there.
However, there's no doubt we face an enormous economic challenge. We've run a trade deficit nearly every year for the last 50 years and only one in five of our companies export, when the European average is one in four. We've got to shift the economy from one that's built on debt, to one that's built on trading and selling our goods overseas. There isn't another option.
In the West Midlands, our goal is to double exports from around £20 billions in 2012, to £40 billions by 2020. If we achieve these demanding targets, we will rebalance our economy and see growth driven by exports, jobs and innovation generated by companies challenged by the rigours of international trade.
I'm confident that the region is up to this challenge. Jaguar Land Rover, Carillion and JCB are brilliant companies, leading the way and breaking into new markets, including China.
A big part of my role will be to get the whole supply chain for these innovative companies to look at where they too can find new markets. West Midlands firms are exporting more to China than any other UK region. In the first nine months of last year, we exceeded the whole of the previous year's exports to China.
While our traditional markets such as Europe and the US have struggled as they, like us, have had to contend with reduced public spending and lack of credit to drive their economies, they still remain important to our export performance.
Further afield, I have seen first hand how UK companies can be successful in the more developed markets such as Australasia. I spent the last four years heading-up our teams in Australia and New Zealand where UK companies of all sizes are winning business and competing with the best international firms. There is plenty of demand for our goods and services out there.
There are also the opportunities provided by countries such as India, China, Brazil, and other fast growing markets such as Russia, Thailand and South Africa. These markets can be more challenging and companies often require additional support to understand the cultural and business environment. Language too can be seen as a barrier to trading with these countries, but there is support available to help companies overcome these difficulties.
We will continue to work hard to secure bigger slices of bigger contracts around the world for UK companies through our High Value Opportunities programme. I worked on one of these opportunities in Australia where the value of contracts to extract gas from Northern Australia are truly enormous and should be accessible to a wide range of companies in the oil and gas sector, but also in IT, catering, legal, finance, health and safety, general engineering and many others.
We will also need to reach into areas of the economy that we have not traditionally worked closely with. This includes getting more medium sized businesses exporting. These businesses are at the heart of our economy and often require different forms of support to grow internationally. We have recently recruited staff to focus on this sector of business and, with the help of partners we are working hard to ensure we can deliver the support they need, when they need it, and in the way that has most impact for their business.
We can support firms of all shapes and sizes - whether they make things or deliver services. We will develop services for those companies who export through the internet, helping them to export more strategically. Leading the way for this type of business is success story Bean2Bed which makes world-class products in the West Midlands and sells them across the globe. One of the company's directors happens to be my next door neighbour so I don't need to go very far to get feedback on the support we give to companies like this.
I would welcome a dialogue with the business community to find out how we can help you be more successful overseas. We need to hear from you so we can ensure we remain focussed on the needs of business.
Challenge me, and UKTI to deliver what you need to grow. I have set up a discussion on the LinkedIn group below. I would really like to hear from you.
Paul Noon, OBE, took up the role of West Midlands International Trade Director at UK Trade & Investment in December 2012. Paul's most recent post was in Sydney, Australia, where he was Director of Trade for Australia and New Zealand for four years. There Paul worked with hundreds of companies, many from the West Midlands, to support them to grow their export businesses in Australasia. He also supported Australian companies to invest in the UK.
Sydney was Paul's fifth overseas posting after Damascus, Syria; Bonn, Germany; Wellington, New Zealand and Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of the Congo. He has also worked in several departments of the Foreign Office in London.
The announcement last week that a survey carried out by the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority (Ipsa) which found that 69% of Members of Parliament (MPs) believed themselves to be underpaid on £65,738 and that £86,250 was the amount considered to be representative of their responsibility should come as no surprise.
I make this statement not out of any sense of resentment or jealousy, quite the contrary.
The amount of work that a typical MP carries out would seem daunting to all but the workaholic. If you consider that the number of constituents is in the range of 60,000-70,000 there is a potential for a lot of case work not to mention the need to be involved in parliamentary work such as sitting on committees.
If an MP is promoted to become a minister (junior up to the role of secretary of state on both 'sides' of the house) there is additional pay.
The thing to recognise is that, by and large, our MPs are hard working and, we sincerely hope, working in all of our interests though we may not always agree with their methods or policies.
An article in December's edition of the Harvard Business Review, 'Who Can Fix the "Middle-Skills" Gap?' by Thomas Kochan, David Finegold, and Paul Osterman suggests that, in America, there is what they believe to be a problem in getting people with appropriate skills and experience to fill vacancies in what they call 'middle skills' - those between operative and senior management level.
As the authors explain, the number of 'middle skills' jobs grew as organisations have had to employ more managers with skills to coordinate the multiplicity of roles and relationships that exist in the contemporary workplace.
This trend equally applied in the UK and a promotion to middle management has always been seen as a great way for those who started at operative level - frequently on an apprenticeship - to make their way up the career ladder.
Indeed, there are undoubtedly a number of senior managers who made their way up in precisely this way.
However, from the late 1970s there have been fewer apprenticeships available because a combination of increased efficiency and automation meant that the number of operatives was reduced; if you have never visited a world class manufacturing facility you will usually be surprised at how few people work on the 'shopfloor'.
Kochan, Finegold, and Osterman recognise that as firms felt that they needed to downsize and reduce cost they have cut back on training programmes.
Some might suggest that given how many graduates we produce there should not be a problem.
Last week's Autumn Statement was a big event and much more than the originally intended interim update on the state of the nation. Fragile business confidence and muted activity indicators spurred the Chancellor to demonstrate that he really does have a grip on the levers of growth. Against a backdrop of missed fiscal targets and a downbeat growth assessment -both in the UK and in world markets - the Chancellor responded with a significant round of reprioritisation to fund tax cuts and infrastructure.