Ideas are the real assets

A chapter in the UK’s industrial history is almost over following last week’s news that Telent, the final chunk of the once-mighty GEC, is poised to vanish from the stock market.

Telent, a telecoms service business, is the remaining element of what used to be Marconi, which in turn was the successor to GEC before it became a byword for corporate disaster in the early 2000s as the technology bubble burst.

Telent is the subject of a £400m offer from the snappily-named Co-Investment No 5 LP Inc, and it is fair to assume that its would-be owner has only a sketchy idea of the nuts and bolts of telecoms equipment installation.

That doesn’t matter because what Co-Inv…, let’s just call it No 5, is really interested in is Telent’s pension fund, which is actually GEC’s old pension fund, and which has followed Telent like a faithful hound through all the years and name changes.

Eyes on the pension kitty

No 5 is itself the creation of an outfit called Pension Corporation, which specialises in managing pension liabilities and is attracted by the idea of getting its hands on the fund of what was once the UK’s second largest industrial empire.

So there we have it. Telent will go about its business or be sold on, and the most valuable remaining asset of GEC, according to investors, is its liabilities. Should we see this as portentous? Is it final confirmation of the triumph of the No 5s of this world over the business of actually developing, making and selling things?

Happily not, and if you want proof of that, we recommend that you take a look at the Awards Winners Special Edition that accompanies this issue of The Engineer.

You will find details of the winners of the seven categories of The Engineer Technology & Innovation Awards 2007, a new scheme set up to highlight the importance of universities to the UK’s technology economy. You will see some great examples of innovation in action, and of collaboration between businesses and universities, their staff and students. Presenting the winners with their awards at Imperial College London was a real pleasure for The Engineer, not least because it gave everyone involved the chance to feel good about being in the business of developing, making and selling things.

Forward vision

All the award winners represent the energy, vision and talent that will be needed if the UK is to compete in the 21st century. There is probably very little there to interest No 5, but never mind. If GEC is the past, our award winners are the future, and from where we are sitting, it looks pretty bright.

Andrew Lee, editor