‘Watershed year’ for Indo-UK ties
Radhakrishna N S
By Amit Roy
THE proportion of Indian-owned companies with at least one woman on the board has more than doubled from 20 per cent to 47 per cent over the past 12 months, according to the 2021 India meets Britain Tracker: The latest trends in Indian investment in the UK.
Jointly published by the global accountancy firm, Grant Thornton UK and the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII), the report also demonstrates that diversity is good for business. There are 850 Indian companies operating in the UK, up from 842 in the 2020 report. And among the fastest growing companies 53 per cent have a woman director.
In an interview with Eastern Eye, Anuj Chande, partner and head of the south Asia business group at Grant Thornton UK, said: “These women don’t have to be Indian either. It could be an English person on a board.”
He made it clear the report considered only the UK subsidiaries of Indian-owned companies. Chande said: “These are not Indian diaspora companies. These are very much Indian companies, either owned by an Indian parent or by an Indian citizen who might reside in Dubai, for example, or live in India. This has nothing to do with the likes of Vitabiotics (a British Indian vitamins firm).”
Taken together, total turnover of the companies went up to £50.8 billion from £41.2 bn in 2020. The number of people employed rose to 116,046 from 110,793 in 2020. Corporation tax paid fell slightly to £459.2 million, compared with £461.8m in 2020.
Chande also revealed that a number of Indian captains of industry were considering moving to the UK.
It has been suggested that Adar Poonawalla, CEO of the Serum Institute of India, the world’s biggest vaccine manufacturer, might be among them. One British newspaper reported that he has been looking for a home in London.
Chande said: “Despite Brexit there is continuing investment interest in India – and we can’t see that reducing. The other thing is that there seems to be a lot more interest by Indian high net worth families to look at relocating to the UK.
“Many of them have got children and want to do their education in the UK. They just find that this is a better way from a lifestyle point of view. With the pandemic, I know many of these Indian captains have moved to Dubai temporarily. I don’t think Dubai is like a stepping stone. They have been exploring or looking at having more of a base here (in the UK). Obviously, the UK is still attractive from a tax point of view.”
With India in the grip of a Covid crisis, now might not seem to be the best time to talk about UK-India business, but Chande said: “There is a glimmer of hope as India comes out of its second wave. Other countries have been through a second wave, whether it’s UK or the USA. We’re talking long term.
“I do see this this year, 2021, as a watershed year, as far as UK-India relations go. And it’s because of Britain’s alignment, post Brexit, with different countries around the world. And India is really top of that pecking order. It’s a priority country for UK to further build and strengthen that trade and investment link that is so strong. It’s a good platform, investment wise. Both countries are investing in each other and doing extremely well.”
Chande added, however: “But on the trade side, it’s pretty dismal. The trade figure between UK and India is £20 bn to £22 bn – whereas India and China is £100bn.”
According to the report, published in a virtual event last Thursday (22), “a record number of new entrants appear in the tracker this year. Of the 49 fastest-growing Indian companies in the UK, 38 are new to the list.
“For the eighth year in a row, technology and telecoms companies dominate the tracker, with 20 companies out of a total of 49. Birlasoft Solutions tops the list as the fastest growing this year (158 per cent). Meanwhile Diligenta (owned ultimately by Tata Sons) was the largest with revenues of £388 million and recorded impressive organic growth of 62 per cent. HCL Technologies is also a notable entry – the company recorded significant revenues (£285m) as well as double-digit growth (24 per cent).”
It added: “At 27 per cent of the total, the proportion of pharmaceuticals and chemicals companies featuring in the tracker increased significantly this year, up from 15 per cent in 2020. The industry is now closing in on the technology and telecoms industry, which has dominated the tracker since its inception.
“Access to EU markets for financial services companies based in the UK has still not been agreed. However, two Indian banks grew strongly enough to feature in the Tracker: ICICI Bank UK plc, with impressive growth of 83 per cent, and Kotak Mahindra (UK) Ltd.”
The UK minister for investment, Lord Gerry Grimstone, who is said to be “a veteran of the India-UK corridor”, having been chairman of Standard Life, said: “I welcome these findings, which show that the UK continues to be a highly attractive destination for Indian investors, who are both bringing jobs to the UK and increasing female representation at the highest level in our boardrooms. “Deeper trading ties with India will ensure more fast-growing companies like Birlasoft and Diligenta will have the opportunity to bring jobs and growth to the UK.”
India’s high commissioner in London, Gaitri Issar Kumar, said: “Trade and investment flows between India and the United Kingdom have remained on a positive trajectory despite the pandemic. Our governments are committed to removal of trade barriers and encouraging collaborations in innovation and technology development, particularly in sectors where our nations have complementary capabilities.”
Chandrajit Banerjee, director general of the CII, said: “The statistics are a reflection of the strong contribution that Indian industry has continued to make in the UK, in keeping jobs and supporting the local economy. As discussions around the India and UK ‘Enhanced Trade Partnership’ agreement continue, and as nations continue to battle the pandemic, CII and its members have worked towards facilitating an economic recovery path which has been invaluable and it is therefore highly encouraging to see the role our Indian industry has played in the UK.”