Chris White is the Member of Parliament for Warwick and Leamington. Follow Chris on Twitter.
Today, the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills is making a speech outlining his views on an industrial policy. This is something that I and other colleagues have been calling on the Government to deliver over a period of many months.
As co-chair of the Associate Parliamentary Manufacturing Group – a body which brings together MPs, Peers, world-beating companies, experts, trade unions and industrial representative bodies – one of the most consistent messages I have heard from manufacturers is the need for the Government to put in place a long term framework for the UK’s manufacturing future.
Government cannot do everything, but what it can do is to be clear about the sort of support it is going to give to industry, the sectors or technologies that it believes Britain can lead the world in developing and create a culture of confidence amongst British businesses.
Manufacturing is particularly crucial to developing a successful industrial policy. All parties recognise that Britain has become too dependent on domestic consumption, financial services and debt. We need to move towards increasing exports and rebuilding our industrial base so that we have a more diversified and resilient economy.
So the Associate Parliamentary Manufacturing Group has released a new “think piece” titled “Developing a Modern Industrial Policy” which can be found online.
The paper calls on the Government to create a formal “Industrial Policy Statement” which would lay out proposals to support manufacturing over a period of ten years, give clear objectives for the overall UK economy and state manufacturing’s role within this strategy.
This would be developed across parties, so that it can survive the rise or fall of any one government and involve significant consultation with business, parliamentarians, trade unions and experts. The aim should be to build a consensus, so that we get a plan which can last and which businesses can have confidence in. It also needs to work across government departments, recognising the impact that all areas of policy can have on developing a stronger economy.
It needs to consider a range of areas from trade and skills to energy policy and public procurement. I believe, and the APMG agrees, that this requires a dedicated Minister for Manufacturing to bring together the different strands of government policy and to ensure that manufacturers are able to directly feed into policy making – in a similar way to how the City of London is able to access Government through a dedicated Minister in the Treasury.
The economy has changed a great deal since the 1960s and 1970s when the UK last operated a coherent industrial policy. Economies are more diverse and dynamic and the lines between different sectors are blurred. However the UK cannot afford to stand aside while competitors across the world develop new policies and frameworks to lure business and to increase their market share.
The UK is not operating in a global economy where there is level playing field and if our manufacturers and exporters are going to succeed, then they need to know that the Government is right behind them opening doors, rewarding them when the succeed and always pushing them forward.
The Conservative Party has been sceptical in recent years about Government-led industrial policy, and for good reason. The collapse the ‘command and control’ model of the 1970s is a warning to all governments about the dangers of suppressing competition too much. However this does not mean that government has no role to play. This isn’t about big government, it is about effective government.
Industrial policy is not something that can be liable to constant changes, dependent on the particular interests of ministers or the electoral fortunes of political parties. It needs to be robust and built on solid foundations, which are likely to stay in place for many parliaments. While I am glad to see the Secretary of State taking an active approach to industrial policy, this cannot be one man’s vision, it must be one shared across the country.
I will be working with colleagues in the Party and through the APMG to develop this vision in more detail and trying to create a consensus on what policies a modern industrial policy might contain. But for now, I hope that the Dr Cable will work with groups such as ours and show that this Government is committed to working in the national interest to secure jobs and growth.