The annual Queen’s Awards for Enterprise have highlighted the contribution of small companies to UK trade as they brace themselves for the possible disruption of Brexit.
More than 200 businesses, including 151 small and medium-sized enterprises, were handed awards from the government to mark Queen Elizabeth II’s 93rd birthday.
They span industries from construction and agriculture to vehicles and software.
Those gaining awards this year include Roberts Recycling, a company that exports second-hand clothing; Orbital, which runs international schools; and NA Brown, which makes brushes for road sweepers. Family-owned Roberts Recycling sends used clothing to Poland, Georgia, Latvia, Romania and the Middle East from its base in Huyton near Liverpool. Exports from the company tripled between 2016 and 2018.
The winners, in four categories, can display the Queen’s Awards for Enterprise emblem for five years. Previous international trade category winners have subsequently boosted their overseas sales.
There were 129 international trade winners, 61 in the innovation category, six in sustainable development and five in the promoting opportunity category. Thirty winners have fewer than 10 employees.
Many SMEs, defined as those with fewer than 250 employees, are unprepared for changes in trade terms that could result from the UK leaving the EU, surveys suggest. About 230,000 such companies are exporters.
However, Customer Thermometer, a company in Witney near Oxford, said it expected online sales to continue growing.
It was founded by Lindsay Willott in 2010 and has just eight staff. It provides online customer surveys with one-click email responses. Clients include Fortune 500 and FTSE 100 companies, including Facebook, BT and Unilever. It trades with more than 1,200 companies in 61 countries.
Overseas sales have grown from £121,000 to £445,000 over the past three years, to account for 70 per cent of sales.
“The global economy is shifting to empower consumers and give them a voice in how they want to buy, use and share products and services. Our product helps organisations get the timely insight they need so that they can monitor and improve customer experiences,” said Ms Willott.
Greg Clark, the business secretary, said: “These awards recognise the innovative products and services being provided by British businesses that are in demand across the world, as well as the sheer determination and hard work that comes with starting and running a business.
“Many of these winners are small businesses — the backbone of our economy — and we are backing them to grow, increase their productivity and create more jobs and opportunity across the UK through our modern industrial strategy.”
Double-award winners include Niftylift, one of the world’s largest manufacturers of “cherry picker” elevating work platforms.
The Milton Keynes company won in both the international trade and innovation categories for a second time, the only company to have had two double wins in the programme’s 53-year history. It has invented a diesel/electric hybrid engine and a platform that can be used indoors and out.
Roger Bowden, Niftylift’s chairman and founder, said: “These awards help to illustrate how our dedication to design and innovation, together with our attention to detail and strong customer focus, have allowed us to compete so successfully in this global marketplace.”
Winners are invited to a royal reception at Buckingham Palace.