29 APRIL 1989, Page 24


Queen's Awards the City is out for a duck, hit wicket


he message from the City of London is: Happy birthday, Dick Whittington's cat. From every lamp-post hangs a crimson placard telling us that this is the 800th anniversary of the mayoralty. At telling the modern City's story, its inhabitants are their usual inept selves. Look at them, or rather look for them, in this year's Queen's Awards for Export. There are 116 award winners, a record number, ranging from ICI to the usual type of token toffee shop which contrives to sell fudge to Albania. Even toffee-shop orders are rightly hon- oured and gratefully received, in a year when the Chancellor will be happy to hold the deficit on our trading account with the world to his forecast £.14 billion. The City's trade with the world will, of course, be in surplus, by anything up to £10 billion. Insurers, banks, pension funds, commodity traders, brokers in money and financial futures, confirming houses, securities deal- ers, the Baltic Exchange (shipbroking, aircraft broking), unit trusts, investment trusts, City lawyers — each group brings in net export earnings which run into hun- dreds of millions. (For the banks and insurers, billions.) How many of them are among the 116 exporters whom the Queen has honoured? None of them. The City's score this year is a duck. That is not from the choice of the Queen's advisers. They would be happy to see more, or even some, City names on the list, but candidates for the award have to apply, and this time the City's good candidates simply did not bother. The awards have been open to the service industries for the last 18 years, and the application forms, at first more suited to toffee-makers, have been adapted over time to accommodate the bankers and insurers. The British Invisible Exports Council tries to prod them. Still they do not stir. The City could do with an inquest on this year's spectacular and self-inflicted failure, for there are lessons to learn and plans to be made. The right place for all this is the City Liaison Committee, the powerful grouping of the City's magnates which the Governor of the Bank of Eng- land convenes. (The magnates return to their offices and kick for action.) It was last used to wake up the City's ideas about the single European market. Now it could teach the City that when it complains, as it does, of being over-regulated, under appreciated and generally misunderstood, it should start by blaming itself.