Engineers respond to UK Industrial Strategy

Article by Staff Writer

INDUSTRY, academics, government and investors must work together to grow UK industry, according to a new report from engineers responding to the UK government’s Industrial Strategy green paper.

Engineering an economy that works for all has been published by the Royal Academy of Engineers (RAEng) and has been put together with input from 38 professional engineering organisations, including IChemE, that represent more than 450,000 engineers. The report collates the responses from ten workshops and a survey of members of the institutions, which had 1,300 responses. It gives an engineering perspective on the Industrial Strategy green paper which was released in January 2017. UK Prime Minister Theresa May said that she wants to use Brexit as an opportunity to change the way the economy works, and comment was invited from all interested parties.

Engineering-related sectors generate £280bn/y (US$385bn) for the UK economy. RAEng said that the response from the engineering community was “unprecedented”. The response praises the government’s focus on industrial strategy and warns that the government, industry, academics and investors must break out of their silos to collaborate, to make the strategy a success.

There are seven key messages outlined in Engineering an economy that works for all. The first is clearly defining a global vision for the UK as a leading trading nation and a destination for inward investment. As many UK companies also operate overseas, the global aspect cannot be avoided. Secondly, all policies should be made with a view to ensuring long-term commitment and stability, with cross-party support to ensure the policies continue beyond the five-year lifespan of a parliament.

All decisions and policies made should use a systems approach to ensure policies work as a coherent whole, due to the interdependencies of all the pillars, the actions and responses arising from each of them, and between different government policies at local, regional and national levels. The fourth recommendation is to build on what already exists, by incorporating existing initiatives, institutions and infrastructures, while the fifth is for the government to support a culture change through communication and engagement with all stakeholders. This, according to the report, has been lacking, particularly with SMEs and the general public. The Industrial Strategy should also promote inclusion and societal benefits, and help the UK to prepare for a digital future, such as by including digital skills in the government’s definition of basic skills.

The report groups its recommendations into five ‘key actions’ – Enabling actions, Innovation, Skills, Infrastructure and Energy, and Growing businesses across the UK.

IChemE’s major input to the report came via the Energy Centre. The main thrust of its recommendations under Infrastructure and Energy is that improving energy efficiency and resource productivity should be a priority. Central to any energy-related policy should be ensuring that the country can meet the Climate Change Act and Paris Agreement commitments. The cost of energy is a significant problem for many businesses, so improving energy efficiency can tackle both of these issues. The Energy Centre also recommends government support for new energy products, such as energy storage, district heating and hydrogen schemes, renewable energy generation, CCS and small modular nuclear (SMR) technology.

“In a time of uncertainty, the one thing that is certain is the need for the UK to move to a low carbon economy. A holistic and long-term view of energy generation and energy use is essential to support a successful UK economy, healthy society and tackle wider global issues including climate change,” said Stefaan Simons, chair of the IChemE Energy Centre and dean of engineering at Brunel University, UK.

Other key recommendations from the report include investing 3% of GDP into public and private research, compiling a UK-wide register of ‘national innovation assets’ to act as test-beds and demonstrators for skills development, and making arrangements to both retain and attract non-UK nationals essential to UK industry. The government should also drive for world-class, secure and resilient digital connectivity and take “decisive action” on the teacher shortages in STEM subjects in schools.

“A good industrial strategy will not make government intervention more likely, but it will make it more predictable – and that builds confidence and encourages business investment. The strategy must be long-term and sustained, with cross-party and whole government support, and should be an important part of all party manifestos as they approach the forthcoming general election,” said RAEng president Dame Ann Dowling. “The industrial strategy is a critical platform to maintain and grow the UK’s prosperity as we prepare to leave the EU, but needs to extend beyond its current proposed scope into primary and secondary schools and continuing professional development to be truly successful. It provides an unparalleled opportunity to engage the public with the UK’s industrial and engineering strengths.”

Article by Staff Writer

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