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Big numbers

EVER since the Formula 1 authorities crossed swords with the British government a few years ago about just how important the British motorsport industry has become, there have been question marks. Did it really employ 50,000 people and produce $3bn? What was the truth? The Motorsport Industry Association decided to find out and in league with four research organizations has come up with the first exhaustive survey of the business.

The University of Birmingham, Cranfield University, Henley Management College and Sports Marketing Surveys each carried research into the business of motorsport. Dr. Nick Henry, a reader in Urban and Regional Studies at Birmingham looked at the numbers in engineering; Henley's Martin Burridge looked at the service industries related to motorsport, Mark Jenkins of Cranfield dug up how the industry worked and Nigel Geach of Sports Marketing Surveys did the sums on the 30,000 competition licence holders. The results were startling. The industry is worth $7.6bn a year to British industry, a large chunk of it in exports. This is much more than anyone had thought possible and Burridge added further surprise by saying that the figures in his sector were "relatively conservative" with one or two of the major companies not having replied to the survey. The $7.6bn figure breaks down into $4.6bn in motorsport engineering and $3bn in services.

The survey revealed that there has been explosive growth in the industry in the course of the last 10 years but that there are still areas in which British firms - which take something like 70% of the global motorsports market - have not even started to expand. What was surprising was that the number of people employed in the industry was reckoned to be only 40,000 but their productivity has been astounding.

The export figures are probably the most impressive of all and make the motorsport industry the fourth or fifth largest export earner in Britain, producing more income for Britain than the agriculture and steel industries combined. Motorsport is not a bigger industry in terms of numbers of people employed but they earn more money.

The team also indicated that there is still enormous growth potential in terms of merchandising with estimates that income could be multiplied by 10-15 times if it was being done properly.

"This is one of the examples of British success which we need to celebrate," said Sir David Wright, the chief executive of the British Trade International organization. "We are committed to ensuring that British motor racing continues to build."

The survey also revealed a need for more racing circuits to be built to meet the demands of licence-holders and highlighted a serious problem with shortages of skilled labor which has led to poaching of talented engineers by the bigger organizations. Martin Briggs, the boss of the East Midlands Development Agency, in which most of the motor racing industry is located, said that his organization is trying to promote the idea of a national motorsport training center and an advanced technology center to help feed the industry.

The findings of the report will add pressure to the campaign being waged for the British government to supply some funding to rebuild Silverstone.

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