Industrial strategy looks fracked
For my money, Vince Cable’s Industrial Strategy with its Business Bank, and targeting of skills and the requirements of particular industrial sectors, could take UK plc a few steps forward, but not many.
Details are still sketchy, but the overall goal is to focus on and develop specific areas of industrial technology where the UK has competitive advantage.
However, unlike in the past, this will require long-term and less headline-making support measures, including establishing a supply chain in each chosen area of industry.
Moreover, the aim should be real international leadership in a select number of technologies – too often UK claims of world leadership ring hollow, particularly when it comes to winning out commercially.
As Juergen Maier, MD of Siemens Industry UK and Ireland, commented: “Today’s world is very different to the failed UK industrial strategy of the 1970’s.
Whatever way it cuts, the Industrial Strategy will not succeed unless there is a seismic shift in UK attitudes to industry
“Technology is moving at a lightning pace compared to back then, and unless we place a key focus on a few areas, we will never be world beating at any area and attract the private sector investment levels into those activities.”
Whatever way it cuts, though, the Industrial Strategy will not succeed unless there is a seismic shift in UK attitudes to industry.
People here nowadays, including many in the science and engineering community, are far more acutely aware of the potential costs of development than the tremendous economic and social progress it can deliver.
A modern-day example of this antipathy is shale gas. Developments in Lancashire alone could meet 25% of the UK gas needs, provide £15 billion a year and hundreds of jobs to the economy, while replacing imported gas from Norway and Russia and well as imported LNG from across the world.
But instead of grasping the opportunity - as has happened to dramatic effect in the US - the industry is bogged down in concern about issues such as groundwater pollution and earthquakes.
Practically all of these concerns are scientifically unfounded, and any actual risks that remain are well within the manageable range of the UK’s oil & gas regime - a set-up that really is world-class.
Whatever the wider complexities around the shale debate, the UK’s lack of progress in this area is symptomatic of a reluctance to grasp new industrial opportunities, with all the financial, technical and environmental challenges that go with them.
Without change in this regard, UK plc is not going to deliver on its undoubted potential in the global industrial arena.