Lord Prior of Brampton, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State at the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, gave a ministerial address launching the Science and Innovation Audits Wave 2 reports at Venturefest East on the 22nd September.
Industrial Revolution 4.0
In the sporting surrounds of Newmarket Racecourse, Lord Prior talked about the challenges and opportunities facing the UK over the coming years and decades, and the role of the new Industrial Strategy in addressing them. As the world heads into the fourth industrial revolution, the UK must be ready to capitalise on the increased digitisation and automation this will bring. Industrial Revolution 4.0 is “up for grabs” and the UK must put itself forward as one of the leaders in developing and exploiting the opportunities this presents – particularly in addressing the UK’s comparatively poor productivity.
However, there was also a cautionary note. Although there are significant gains to be made, the impact on jobs could be equally significant. There is a need to bring people along as the workplace is transformed by new and emerging technology. We should not seek to slow the rate of progress, but during the period of deindustrialisation in the UK following the second world war there was a failure to retrain people to make them fit for the changing economy.
Indeed; and Lord Prior pointed out the need to ensure that the benefits of progress are felt by all of our citizens and linked the growing tide of nationalism and populism in part to the stagnation in living standards experienced across the UK, USA and Europe.
The Industrial Strategy has been designed to address these issues. The strategy will have five “pillars”, described by the Minister as three horizontals and two verticals.
The horizontals cover:
- People – the risk is that new technologies will mean fewer jobs, but with the right skill sets they present an opportunity. Skills and lifelong learning or training will be critical going forward. There is also a need to tackle the UK cultural problem of preferring the academic over the technical –that in Britain we care more for degrees than technical qualifications; for scholars over apprentices. This needs to end if we are to be more inclusive.
- Infrastructure – the UK will need the connectivity – both physical and digital, housing and energy to meet the needs of the fourth industrial revolution. We need to link population centres together and ensure that we have good infrastructure everywhere, not just the South East.
- Innovation – the UK has an excellent reputation and is known for having a globally leading science base, but the UK record on commercialisation is poor. We need to continue the former and improve the latter.
The two verticals are Sectors and Place. Place being particularly important, as it holds the key to rebalancing the economy and addressing inequalities in our society. We need to take full advantage of the unique offer that everywhere has if the UK is to be successful – we cannot build on the Golden Triangle alone. The SIAs are part of revealing the unique strengths of places.
The Hub agrees with comments made by Lord Prior. We agree that progress must be maintained and there is no place for new Luddites. Technological advances will happen and will impact the UK economy whether they are adopted here or not. We must embrace change and advancement but do a better job at: explaining the advantages, spreading the benefits, being honest about the impacts both short- and long-term, and helping people adapt to change.
We very much support the importance of place – as it is at the local level that impacts of change will be most keenly felt. It is these areas that will bear the brunt of business growth and in some cases the decline caused by industrial developments. It is also this level that will be best placed to address these issues.
The Hub also supports the rebalancing agenda and the need to make the economy work for all, but, we do not believe that this is should be viewed as a zero sum game. The south east in general and the Golden Triangle are significant assets and need to be supported to yield maximum benefit for the UK.
Science and Innovation Audits
The Science and Innovation Audits (SIAs) were first announced on 16 July 2015 by the Minister of State for Universities, Science, Research and Innovation, Jo Johnson MP. The Audits help local areas map their research and innovation strengths and were intended to identify areas of potential global competitive advantage. The SIA process has produced valuable evidence that will contribute to the future economic direction of each area.
There have been two waves of SIA completed and a third wave is pending announcement.
SIA first wave:
- Edinburgh and South East Scotland City region
- South West England and South East Wales
- Sheffield City region and Lancashire
- Greater Manchester and East Cheshire
- The Midlands Engine