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Big Bang Fair to receive well-deserved gong

07 June 2012

If anything can be said to have fired the imagination of youngsters and steered them towards STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) subjects in recent years, it must be the hugely successful Big Bang Fair, which this year drew no fewer than 56,000 people to the NEC venue.

The March event brought children, their parents and teachers into contact with engineers and scientists from UK companies and universities, as well as TV personalities and Olympic athletes. Now in its fourth year, the fair attracts over four times as many visitors as it did at launch back in 2009.

In recognition of this achievement, the Big Bang UK Young Scientists and Engineers Fair is to be awarded the 2012 Rooke Medal by the Royal Academy of Engineering. Later this month, three individuals will receive this award on behalf of the Big Bang fair, which is led by EngineeringUK in partnership with a number of STEM organisations.

Founding Chair, Sir Anthony Cleaver developed the vision of the fair to inspire the next generation of students to consider STEM careers. He will be joined by EngineeringUK chief executive, Paul Jackson and event director Jeremy Buckle to accept the medal, which is named in honour of the late Sir Denis Rooke, a former chairman of British Gas and a former president of the Royal Academy of Engineering.

The fair, which also hosts the National Science & Engineering Competition as well as other prizes, is expanding regionally with 'Big Bang Near Me' events, designed to reach and inspire more young people. Previous winners of the Rooke Medal include computer science champion Professor Chris Bishop, the team behind 'Walking with Robots', children's TV star Johnny Ball and the man who 'propped up' the Leaning Tower of Pisa, Professor John Burland.

Hands across the sea
The UK and Norwegian governments last week agreed a landmark partnership designed to secure affordable and sustainable long term energy supplies. The Norway-UK Energy Partnership for Sustainable Growth heralds closer collaboration between the two countries across a wide range of energy activities, including safe and environmentally sensitive oil and gas extraction, long term gas supply, renewable energy investment, electricity interconnection and international climate change policy development.

Alongside this agreement UK and Norwegian companies have announced billions of pounds of new investment with the potential to create thousands of new jobs. Among these, the Norwegian oil services firm Aker Solutions intends to create, over the next three years, some 1,300 new skilled jobs at its engineering hub in Chiswick, and Statoil intends to invest a further £12bn over the lifetime of the UK's Mariner-Bressay North Sea oil fields in addition to the £6bn it has already announced. Statoil also confirmed its continuing collaboration with Centrica on gas supply and exploration, building on the £13bn, ten-year gas supply deal agreed between them last November.

On the renewables front, the Forewind Consortium, which includes Norwegian companies Statoil and Statkraft, confirmed its intention to develop the huge £30bn, 9GW Dogger Bank offshore wind project, which could provide more than 10% of the UK's electricity needs. In addition, Statoil and Statkraft are ploughing around £1bn into developing the Sheringham Shoal offshore wind farm off the coast of Norfolk, which is already generating power and is due to be completed later this year, when it is expected to provide power sufficient for the needs of 200,000 UK homes.

It's good to know we have such friendly and well-heeled neighbours!

Mixed messages on our manufacturing economy
Coming within a week of one another, two of our key manufacturing performance indicators couldn't have been more at odds. At 45.9 in May - down from 50.2 in April - the seasonally adjusted Markit/CIPS UK Manufacturing Purchasing Managers’ Index (PMI) fell to its lowest level for three years and below the neutral 50.0 mark for the first time since last November. The headline index fell by 4.3 points over the month, the second-steepest fall in its 20-year history.

By contrast, a rather bullish joint report from the Engineering Employers' Federation (EEF) and business advisors BDO LLP concludes that Britain’s manufacturers are remaining resilient and continuing to take advantage of growth in global markets, in spite of increasing uncertainty in Europe. Moreover, the EEF/BDO survey suggests that manufacturers are expecting output to continue to expand over the next three months.

According to the PMI, the UK manufacturing sector took a sudden sharp turn for the worse in May. Companies scaled back production and employment as inflows of new business declined at the steepest pace since March 2009, amid rising uncertainty among domestic and overseas clients. The EEF/BDO survey, on the other hand, saw both UK and export orders balances gaining ground.

To be fair, the EEF did sound a significant note of caution, saying that, despite the relative strength of its survey results, the continued political and economic uncertainty in the Eurozone and any possible deterioration in the European economy as a result, may yet impact significantly on manufacturers’ confidence and prospects.

In that, at least, both surveys seemed to be in agreement.

Les Hunt

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