Engineers warn next UK government must commit to industrial strategy to secure UK economy

Article by Amanda Jasi

ENGINEERS have warned that the UK economy is at risk unless the next government commits to a long-term industrial strategy and equips workers for future green and tech jobs. As part of a systems approach to ensuring sustainable economic growth, 42 organisations including IChemE also recommended intensifying commitment to net zero and futureproofing infrastructure.

Ahead of a general election on 4 July, the National Engineering Policy Centre (NEPC), which represents more than 700,000 engineers from across the UK’s engineering institutions has published a report called Engineering a resilient and prosperous future: policy priorities for the next UK parliament.

Engineering positions account for around 19% of jobs in the UK and the engineering economy represents 32% of total economic output, making it vital to the nation’s economic growth says NEPC. To fully benefit from the UK’s engineering and technology talents, it says the UK needs to become a more attractive business destination.

In its report, the NEPC outlines how engineers can tackle complex challenges such as climate change and slow growth, and how they can work with policymakers to meet the UK’s needs.

They encourage a bold, holistic, long-term approach to address challenges, offering a package of policy priorities that can help grow the economy, protect the environment, and invest in workforce and infrastructure. This includes backing industry to demonstrate and potentially adopt disruptive technologies that could contribute to national goals, such as achieving net zero.

“Engineers are drivers of innovation and economic opportunity. They leverage advances in research to develop and deliver new products, services, and enterprises that generate jobs and value to society,” said Sir Jim McDonald, president of the Royal Academy of Engineering, which leads the NEPC. “The new government needs to pursue a clear industrial strategy, underpinned by large-scale targeted support to key sectors, as many of our competitor nations have succeeded in doing. The choice is clear: we must create an environment that supports companies here, or they will go elsewhere.”

The US is supporting cleantech advancement with more than US$370bn through its Inflation Reduction Act, which the EU is attempting to rival with its Net Zero Industry Act. The EU’s Act was formally adopted by the EU Council in late May, paving the way for the law to enter force.

Duncan Lugton, head of policy and impact at IChemE, said: “Chemical engineers will be at the forefront of making the vision in this new report a reality – for instance, through the development and adoption of green technologies, and spearheading the rollout of technology to cut carbon emissions. IChemE will continue to promote that contribution through our engagement with policymakers and through our wider work with our members."

Drawing on national strengths

NEPC says that the next government has to commit to a long-term industrial strategy that draws on the UK’s strengths in engineering, innovation, and research and manufacturing.

The NEPC advises setting a strategic direction developed in partnership with industry. It says this will involve making informed decisions about the outcomes the UK wishes to achieve by harnessing established and disruptive technologies. It also encourages a plan to see this strategy through development, delivery, and adoption.

The incoming UK government also needs to boost support for late-stage research and development, and demonstration, NEPC adds. It should work with industry to co-design programmes aimed at accelerating research and development in internationally competitive sectors and technologies vital to national priorities such as net zero.

The long-term industrial strategy also needs to be supported by investment in skills and aligned with a National Engineering and Technology Workforce Strategy. This strategy should involve actions to boost the number of STEM teachers and further education providers, increase apprenticeships, and promote engineering as an attractive career choice.

Committing to net zero and green tech

Amongst the policy commitments, the NEPC recommends driving carbon reduction and green technology adoption. It says the new government should incentivise low carbon infrastructure. This includes carbon capture and storage, hydrogen, sustainable fuels, energy storage capabilities, and electric charging infrastructure. NEPC says the government should use the “full suite of policy levers” such as grant funding and fiscal incentives.

To decarbonise the electricity grid, it advises that government implement an engineering-led delivery plan. NEPC notes that its policy project launched earlier this year will offer guidance on how to rapidly decarbonise the electricity system.

Article by Amanda Jasi

Staff reporter, The Chemical Engineer

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