Author Mark Richards
The UK has just been named the ‘best country in the world for business.’ But in other ‘world league tables,’ it fares much less well – with worrying implications for our future.
Just before Christmas, there was some good news for the UK –, especially for the economy. Sadly, with the media concentrating on the key issue of the day (what would Meghan wear for church on Christmas Day?) it went largely unreported.
So let us set the record straight. In the annual ranking by America media company Forbes, the UK was named the best country in the world for business in 2018. This was the first time the UK had topped the league of 153 countries, as we jumped from fifth last year. The UK scored especially well on technological readiness (we were fourth) and the education of its workforce (third). New Zealand and Holland were second and third, with the US and Germany toiling in 12th and 13th places.
Coming against the backdrop of the continuing uncertainty surrounding Brexit this survey by Forbes was great news for the UK – and it has clear implications for continuing inward investment into the country.
But the survey set us wondering: where does the UK come in other world league tables? We have taken a look at a few below – and considered their implications for us all as we head bravely into the New Year…
Anyone who has read our articles over the last 12 months will know that low productivity has been a recurring problem for the UK economy – and it is a problem that successive Chancellors have failed to fix. According to a table published in Time Magazine last year, the UK was 15th in the world league table, with a Gross Domestic Product of $52.10 per hour worked: (the calculation is the total GDP of a country divided by the total hours worked).
Top of the list was Luxembourg, closely followed by Ireland and Norway. But there may be special reasons for those stellar performances: Luxembourg has rather a lot of ‘corporations’ apparently contributing to the country’s GDP without a great deal of work going on. Ireland has a very low corporation tax which has attracted a lot of US companies to set up headquarters there (said he, looking at his iPhone…) and hence contribute to Ireland’s GDP. And Norway has oil.
But that still leaves the UK behind Belgium, the US, France, Germany and a host of other countries. In fact, given that there is supposedly so much unpaid overtime in the UK, the real position could be even worse than the league table suggests.
Increase productivity and you can increase wages and the tax take so that public services improve. It is a win-win situation. And one of the best ways to increase productivity is to have an educated workforce. So it must follow that if Forbes ranked the UK highly for an ‘educated workforce’ then we must be high up in the world education rankings?
Back in 2010, the UK was 20th in the world education rankings, with South Korea, Finland and Canada filling the top three places (with the tables based on maths, reading and science).
Surely we must have improved since then?
Sadly not. When the 2016 rankings were revealed the UK was 27th in reading, 22nd in maths and 15th in science. Singapore and Finland continue to lead the way, but the UK lags behind Vietnam, Poland and Estonia, with our results described as ‘flat in a changing world.’
The ‘fat man of Europe’
We have written consistently about two ‘epidemics’ affecting the UK; the epidemics of loneliness and obesity. It is difficult to measure statistics for loneliness, but ranking countries by body mass index is relatively straightforward.
An overweight population is expensive, especially if you are the only country in the world with a national health service, offering treatment ‘free at the point of delivery.’ According to figures for 2016, the UK is 36th in the world obesity league. Ahead of it are plenty of countries – especially in the South Pacific – where genetics appear to play a major part in obesity. We are also behind the USA, New Zealand, Canada and Australia – but significantly, the UK is ahead of all the other major European countries. Germany, for example, is 79th in the table, with an average BMI of 22.3 compared to our 27.8 (with a figure of 30 and above meaning you are classed as ‘obese.’) BMI may be a slightly blunt tool, but it is a good comparator. The NHS – quite prepared to concede that the UK is ‘the fat man of Europe’ – is predicting that half the UK population will be obese by 2030 – which will, in simple terms, cost us all a fortune.
What about life expectancy?
Given the problems of obesity, how does the UK fare in the ‘Life Expectancy League Table?’ This is a double-edged sword for the UK Government – life expectancy is a sign of good public health and a successful health service. But goodness me, those old people are expensive – especially with an ever-increasing number of them living alone, which dramatically increases the cost of the social care bill.
Like obesity, it is not terribly good news for the UK. According to 2017, we are down at no. 29 in the list, with an average life expectancy of 80.77 years. That puts us one place behind Germany, but well behind other European countries like France, Spain and Sweden. Leading the way is Monaco, with a life expectancy of 89.42 years – but if we ignore super-rich retired Formula One drivers, the place to go if you want to live to a ripe old age is the Far East: Japan, Singapore and Hong Kong are all in the top 10.
Will we learn from ‘Blue Planet?’
I had all my children at home over Christmas and one thing that really struck me was their awareness of recycling (I still got to carry it all out to the bins though…) so surely the UK does well in the recycling league?
Again, sadly not. Germany leads the way, recycling just over 65% of what it uses. Singapore is next and then at no. 3 we find Wales, with a recycling rate of 60%. As a whole, though, the UK recycles less than 45% of everything it uses (the culprit is England) which again places us behind the majority of the other countries in Europe. But we are well ahead of the US: the recycling rate in the Land of the Brave and Home of the Just-put-it-in-the-Trash is below 35%.
So while the news from Forbes is good – and a welcome boost as we head into the New Year – the UK’s performance in other league tables is worrying. Do we have a well-educated workforce simply because it is bolstered by immigration? In that case, what are the long-term implications of Brexit as our own education system continues to lag behind other countries? And when will someone grasp the nettle of obesity? It is not just the plastic bottles that are the problem, it is the fizzy drinks that are inside them…