The Industrial Strategy: Creating a sustainable future

Grounded in the UK’s history as an enterprising and intrepid place of first-time invention, whilst candidly recognising current weaknesses, the industrial strategy unapologetically evokes the ‘Great British Spirit’. It sets out a platform for collaboration between government, industries and individuals, for a national and local transformation that will create a productive country fit for a sustainable future.

Industrial Strategy

The role of ‘place’

The strategy highlights that the places where we live, work and play will be a central foundation of success. UK regions must become economic engines and cities must be empowered, through further devolution, to erode the regional productivity disparities that have plagued the nation for more than 50 years.  

Those best placed to create vibrant and prosperous communities are the communities themselves. Local leadership, tailored local industrial strategy and investment are key levers. Ensuring that quality housing and infrastructure meets areas’ needs will set the scene for agglomerations of invention, production and wealth.

Infrastructure as a route to competitiveness 

The UK’s colossal infrastructure pipeline is an envy of the world. £600bn of roads, railways, fibre, sewers and more over the next ten years will oil the wheels of national competitiveness. Aligning this investment to wider strategic objectives, including the development of skills, performance transformation and a more resilient built environment that can withstand climate change and cyber-attack all provide huge opportunities for ingenuity and advancement.  

The use of data and innovative technologies will be central, not just in constructing projects, but in boosting long term productivity in their operation and use. The UK can be a world leader in areas such as clean energy and connected and autonomous vehicles if it makes the right investments, in the right way, at the right time.

Addressing the skills shortage 

The UK has high employment and an educated population but lacks skills involving science, engineering and maths (STEM), and has neglected technical education routes for too long. A greater focus on technical education and engagement by the private sector and individuals will be vital. The future will require roles and skills that we do not even know we need yet and the flexible environment to meet this challenge needs to be enhanced.  

Innovation in the Fourth Industrial Revolution

The UK ranks highly in the world for offering an environment that is easy to do business in, but it could be even better. Improving management proficiency and access to finance both present an opportunity. Astute and targeted regulation, policy, funding and tax can all play a significant role. The first wave of sector deals show huge promise, and organisations must now embrace and run with them. 

Ultimately driving all of this will be ideas and innovation - the likes of which drove the industrial revolution of 200 years ago. If anything, this is where the industrial strategy is perhaps least ambitious, with an apparent lack of expectation for any ‘big bang’ disruptions akin to the ‘Spinning Jenny’. Instead the strategy focusses on grand challenges - longer term disruptions, such as the growth of artificial intelligence - and creating the right environment for innovation in these areas to flourish. It is working to turn ideas into real research and development, creating an agile regulatory environment, fostering knowledge exchange and using public buying power as a catalyst for invention.  

The idea of ‘patient capital’ to finance slow burning and long-term innovations is central in the strategy. The use of procurement to shape demand and drive behavioural change to deliver a better, industry-wide outcome, encouraging the imagining of what industry and service 4.0 looks like, and the infrastructure it will need, are also key considerations.

Realising the Industrial Strategy

All stakeholders will have a role to play in meeting the ambitions of the strategy;

The government will need to provide clear leadership in all these areas, as well as long term investment. Working in partnership with the private sector and repositioning UK trade will also play key roles. Equally, knowing when not to be involved will be important.  Some shocking areas of unacceptable performance will also need ‘honest resolution’ if productivity is to be improved. For example, the UK’s historically poorly ranked infrastructure and woeful record on technical education have hidden in plain sight for too long. Solutions need to transcend the political cycle.  

Industry, including all partners in the ecosystem, will need to embrace the industrial strategy and all its associated initiatives. This will also require strong leadership and investment. It will also mean reinventing the way things are done, collaborating more widely with bigger ecosystems of organisations, investing in people and placing customer experience on a pedestal.

It would be easy for individuals to think they have no role to play in a strategy of such scale, but localism is intended to be the backbone of its success. Individuals can champion the industrial strategy at all levels and take a leading role in their local communities and organisations. Critically, the strategy is built on the idea of ideas – and all ideas start with the individual.

The past 18 months of Brexit might have exposed some deep divisions in the UK, but rooted in our shared past, the industrial strategy conjures up a future vision for the UK as a global economic power with world-leading productivity and innovation. And in doing so it pivots on the one thing everyone can agree on; that we want a better, more sustainable future – and that we all have a role to play in creating it.

Will Waller

Director - Head of Futures +44 (0)7787 152 097 Ask me a question