SCI CEO calls for end to short-termism at industrial policy forum

20 June 2024 | Muriel Cozier

‘We need cross-party consensus where a long-term policy is put in place,’ says Sharon Todd.

For the UK to realise its full economic potential and stand among the world’s leading economies, there is a growing consensus that an industrial strategy is needed. What that strategy might look like and how it could be executed was the subject of discussion at an online event held on Wednesday 19 June by the Westminster Business Forum.

Next steps for Industrial Policy convened former government advisers, stakeholders and policy analysts to share perspectives on a UK industrial policy, which has been highlighted in the manifestos of the political parties looking to take charge of the UK on the 4 July.

Giles Wilkes is a specialist partner at Flint Global; senior fellow of the Institute for Government think tank, and was a special adviser to Theresa May during her premiership. He highlighted the challenges that any government will have in establishing a coherent industrial policy – not least the idea that risks have to be taken.

‘A new government will have to prioritise what it focuses on in terms of industrial policy, so there is the potential that ideas and interests will have to be rejected. There needs to be an acceptance that risks have to be taken, so failure has to be expected. The problem is that there is no system that allows politicians or officials to take risks or indeed fail,’ Wilkes said.

Now is the time to take action, he argued, but though collaboration and a strategy for the long term are essential, these aspects are missing from the government’s thinking. ‘Coordination across Whitehall is terrible. The mechanisms of government mean that there is more focus on the good of the department, rather than wider government.’

Collaboration was a recurring theme throughout the day. Hilary Chipping, a strategy advisor for the Oxford to Cambridge Partnership, highlighted the productivity challenge, arguing that far-reaching collaboration was needed. ‘We need to see not only government departments working together but we need better public-private partnerships and links across the whole of the education sector.’

It was widely agreed that setting the right foundations for industrial growth through improved planning, infrastructure and education systems was a crucial step for the UK’s long-term economic health and growth.

The UK’s health and growth was picked up by Sharon Todd, CEO of SCI. ‘The last 20 years has seen the deindustrialisation of the UK. Data sets show that the UK has fallen behind its industrial partners on economic growth and now there is a need for a long-term focus, rather than the short-term party political focus. We need cross-party consensus where a long-term policy is put in place,’ she said.

Also calling for focused action, Todd added, ‘There is a lot of activity around the UK’s industrial outlook with some 70 councils and bodies working on it. But are they delivering?’

Her comments came as SCI welcomed a pledge by the Labour party to put an industrial strategy on a statutory footing, as reported in City AM.

With the European Union and the US, among others, implementing policies aimed at driving not only investment, but innovation and scale-up, attendees were in agreement that the UK was at a pivotal point and action was needed.

‘We need to maximise the opportunities we have with net-zero, unlock innovation and accelerate adoption of technologies as well as boost our critical infrastructure and supply chains. This requires coordinated and joined-up thinking,’ said Seamus Nevin, interim policy director at Make UK.

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