London, Asharq Al-Awsat- Relationships between GCC countries and Great Britain continue to grow. British business and expertise has much to offer the region, and the region has much to offer Britain.
For many businessmen one question will be, “how do we access British expertise, how do we find the right potential partners in Britain?”
I will make a suggestion later in this article on that important question. First another notable topic caught my eye this week. A new study from the UK Islamic Finance Secretariat of TheCityUK reported that worldwide Islamic finance assets have achieved an estimated value of USD$1.3 trillion in 2011. That is up 150% over the previous five years. The industry has continued to expand, despite political unrest in some countries, and not only in its core markets of the Middle East and Malaysia but also in Asia.
Islamic funds reached a new high of USD$58bn in 2010, with the available pool closer to ten times that amount at over USD$500bn. Competition remains intense, with average management fees down 0.5% worldwide, from 1.5% in 2006 to 1.0% in 2011.
As I have mentioned in past articles, Britain continues to maintain its position as the leading Western provider of Islamic finance with assets of USD$19bn. Britain benefited from a globally buoyant sukuk market in 2011, where issuance was up 60% to USD$84bn. This was reflected in ten new sukuk listings on the London Stock Exchange’s markets in 2011 and two in early 2012. There are 37 sukuk with a combined value of USD$20bn currently listed on the London Stock Exchange’s markets. Additionally, seven exchange traded funds and two exchange traded products are also listed on these markets.
Banks, sukuk issuance and exchange traded products in Britain are underpinned by the strong infrastructure of professional support for Islamic finance deals and transactions. Among this are more than 25 major law firms and each of the largest professional services’ firms have significant Islamic finance and legal teams. Britain is also making an increasing contribution to the development of Islamic finance education and skills with four professional institutions and 10 universities and business schools offering qualifications.
Now to the question of how people in the Middle East find potential business partners in the UK, and especially those who wish to establish business relationships with SMEs and high-tech and professional services companies that are also looking to expand their own activities into the region.
There are the commercial sections at embassies in London and also at British embassies in each country. There are also local British business groups in some countries. There are helpful organisations such as the Arab-British Chamber of Commerce. Some people will talk with their friends. These are all excellent ways to gain some initial information. However, each of these will be limited to what the individuals know.
A more complete understanding of what British companies are able to do is the answer. That requires an organisation that represents British businesses that are active and working internationally. Businessmen sometimes prefer to have a less ‘formal’ route to finding out about British organisations. I can identify with that approach as I tend to have a similar way of thinking about my own business when considering new activities in the region.
I would suggest that a very good way to gain some understanding of those professional services businesses in Britain that are looking to find partners in the Middle East could be through organisations like British Expertise. Of course there are several organisations whose members represent different sectors of industry in Britain but I find British Expertise is a good starting point. I am not completely impartial in this as I did serve as chairman a couple of years ago.
British Expertise is the leading UK private sector organisation for British companies offering professional services internationally. It arranges and hosts numerous inward visitors and also manages overseas delegations. British Expertise introduces its members to key British and international contacts, identifies potential partners and clients, and offers market intelligence and training. British Expertise lobbies the British Government, the international financing institutions and others in its members’ interests. It is also able to assist inward delegations to meet suitable British companies through arranging meetings at its central London offices.
Having been a judge for Cityscape awards in the recent past I understand the enthusiasm in the region for awards. The annual British Expertise International Awards recognise excellence in design, planning, management and construction of overseas projects. They support the continued outstanding success of UK professional services throughout the world. If any British Expertise member consultant or contractor was involved in a project it could be eligible for entry to these annual awards. The impact of these awards is increasing every year. British Expertise sees the awards as an excellent opportunity to demonstrate Britain’s diversity.
The judging panel is led by British Expertise’s President, HRH The Duke of Gloucester, himself a qualified architect.
British Expertise maintains close links with UK Trade & Investment, the British government agency that helps UK based companies succeed in international markets and assists overseas companies to bring high quality investment to the UK’s economy.
This week British Expertise members will meet the Mayor of Mecca, Dr Osama Al Bar and Head of Mecca Municipality’s investment arm, Dr Abdullah Sirajuddin at UK Trade & Investment.
Now I will return to my favourite subject – PPP. It is time that there was even more serious work put into understanding the benefits behind establishing PPP programs beyond the delivery and efficiency improvement offered by the private sector vs. the public sector. That is a theme that I enjoyed discussing during our visit to SAGIA (the Saudi Arabian General Investmnet Authority) as part of last month’s British PPP delegation to the Kingdom. There needs to be more work done about how PPP can stimulate new private sector jobs in a region where large numbers of the population are employed in the public sector. This is an area that SAGIA shares an interest with the UK.
Whilst an element of international best practice is important, governments can usefully engage with domestic private sector organisations and use them for service provision in a programme of PPPs. Unlike conventional government procurement, PPP requires a better understanding of the issues relating to the interfaces between domestic private sector organisations and government, specifically in relation to facilitation, regulation and direct provision and modes of interaction.
Domestic private sector organisations operate in a wide array of services and are seen as society’s entrepreneurial response to developing and providing new services. The regulatory regime should be enabling and should not threaten their growth. This means that government needs to involve domestic private sector organisations in dialogue on policy issues. Over the past 20 years Britain has made enormous progress in stimulating SMEs and larger organisations as a result of its PPP programme. Many are members of British Expertise.
In the next few articles we will again consider the concept of a consultative framework for implementing PPP service delivery between government and domestic private sector organisations that moves the agenda beyond policy dialogue to ‘REAL’ dialogue.
John Davie is a visiting professor at London Metropolitan Business School and chairman of Altra Capital