Industry leaders comment on the launch of the Government's latest Industrial Strategy green paper

Earlier this week, Prime Minister Theresa May unveiled a new, 10-point industrial strategy designed to boost the post-Brexit UK economy. Industrialists and heads of many of the UK’s leading companies and organisations provided their commentary on this new and much needed initiative.

In response to the Government’s industrial strategy green paper and being asked to lead its digitalisation review, Siemens UK CEO Juergen Maier, said: “The launch of the industrial strategy green paper marks the start of an important journey for British industry. We need a robust industrial strategy to prepare our economy for the challenges and opportunities of the digital revolution in manufacturing and other sectors.

“The Industrial Digitalisation review will identify the impacts of digitalisation across UK industrial sectors and how government working in partnership with industry can maximise the opportunities from driving digitalisation. We aim to make proposals later this year for an Industrial Digitalisation Sector Deal. I am delighted to lead this important piece of work on behalf of industry which aims to benefit as many people and businesses across the UK as possible.”

Martin Walder, vice president of industry at energy management specialist, Schneider Electric, said: “Brexit is top of mind for many UK businesses as 2017 continues to unfold. With the Prime Minister revealing more and more of the Brexit roadmap, it’s reassuring to see that investment in UK industry is still high on the agenda. Taking advantage of smart manufacturing and the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) will fuel the progress of UK industry and ensure that we can compete on a global platform. 

“It’s essential that British Industry is given every opportunity to be at the leading edge of global industrial innovation through fresh investment, in order to combat the risk of stagnation. An Internet of Things-enabled industrial environment will push the boundaries of technological innovation and empower manufacturers to energise their workspaces – from the use of augmented reality in plant maintenance, and the rollout of smart sensing technology, to predictive maintenance, Virtual Reality tools and processes, and the integration of robotics on the factory floor.

“It’s never been more important for the UK to deliver the best products at competitive prices. In order to do this, we need the Government to drive capital investment in new manufacturing plant technology and equipment, such as robotics, automation and artificial intelligence. Research and innovation in these areas will have a direct impact on how new technology is rolled out, bringing with it the potential for significant gains in profitability, and the better management of safety, performance and environmental impact.”

Parmjit Singh, head of diversified industrials at Eversheds, commented: “It is really exciting to hear the Prime Minister talking about her plans for a truly global Britain and an innovative economy. This is a powerful message to all companies who are creating next generation technologies in this country, and to those who are seeking to adopt new technology into their business processes. There is no doubt the UK is an inventive and innovative country and, in the manufacturing sector, technologies such as smart and additive manufacturing are set to have a radical impact in terms of the way in which companies design and manufacture products, as well as in the ways in which they interact with their customers and supply chain partners. All of this, in turn, is leading to commercial opportunities for companies to join forces which have not historically existed.

“Also, alongside the opportunities, there will be disruption as companies implement new technologies, change business processes and deal with new issues such as cyber risk. The Government is right to identify matters such as the protection and exploitation of data and intellectual property as focus areas. In addition, whilst skills are in short supply, the pro-active adoption of the new Apprenticeship Programme will help companies up-skill existing staff and talented new joiners in the skills of the future.”

Dr Colin Brown, Director of Engineering at the Institution of Mechanical Engineers, said: “The Government’s pledge to focus on developing technical skills is an encouraging step. The UK urgently needs to raise its game in the development of a highly-skilled, technically-trained workforce to underpin our future economy, particularly in light of the UK’s withdrawal from the EU.

“There needs to be greater investment in a range of broad technical skills to develop an agile and resilient workforce rather than simply job-specific training. This is not about businesses absolving themselves of any responsibility for training staff, but about providing more people with the fundamental skills that will boost their career prospects and help business, and the UK economy more widely, prosper. The right industrial strategy has the potential to increase opportunities for fulfilling skilled jobs for more people from all backgrounds, leading to a fairer and more stable society.

“Other key areas that the Government has pledged to support include delivering affordable clean energy, upgrading infrastructure and providing a new £4.7billion research and development (R&D) fund. While these pledges are broadly positive, they must be underpinned by a radical overhaul of current policy. For example, Government has scrapped plans for the Carbon Capture and Storage demonstration project, which is the only viable technology that could decarbonise our electricity sector in the medium-term.

“The UK has a great history of innovation, but UK companies have often struggle to bridge the investment barrier of commercialisation between development and bringing a product to market. The new £4.7billion R&D fund must look to help companies overcome this ‘valley of death’ by supporting long term financial security.”

Terry Scuoler, CEO of EEF, the manufacturers’ organisation, said: “Today’s announcement sends a strong signal that industry’s calls for a modern, comprehensive and robust industrial strategy have not fallen on deaf ears. The strategic pillars outlined today touch upon some of the key weaknesses, areas of concern and opportunities for business which, if tackled, will provide a huge tonic to Britain’s future economic growth. Government and industry must now work together to meld these pillars into a strategic framework that will deliver measurable, demonstrable results.

“The right industrial strategy will provide the springboard for future British economic success. It must live up to the promise of driving different behaviours and outcomes for the British economy, which requires the whole of Government working together to support it with clear leadership from the Prime Minister and her Cabinet. The fact that the PM has unveiled these plans herself suggests that this message too has successfully landed.”

Laurie Miles, Director of Analytics at SAS UK & Ireland, commented: “With the Prime Minister revealing more and more of the Brexit roadmap, it’s reassuring to see that investment in boosting STEM skills is high on the agenda.

“Against a backdrop of Brexit uncertainty, the survival factor for organisations lies in embracing innovation to make optimum decisions and iron out inefficiencies. The emergence of artificial intelligence, robotics and smart technologies means more data is being created than ever before. Yet there is a dearth of talent with the skills to extract insights from data and find the all-important needles within ever-growing data haystacks.

“To remain globally competitive and thrive in a modern and tech-centric economy, we need greater investment in skills. Science and mathematic skills form the basis of data science. It’s important to make the next generation aware of the real-world opportunities available to them and how critical these skills are to businesses nationwide. Numerous research pieces support this, the latest being a LinkedIn survey which revealed statistical analysis and data mining was the number one skill sought by U.K. employers.

“This commitment to closing the skills gap creates an opportunity to propel the economy forward using insights from big data. The next generation requires a solid foundation in STEM skills that are crucial to developing a pool of analytically-minded talent. While we’re moving in the right direction, we still need to do a better job of encouraging students to take up - and then develop - these skills.

“Our recent survey of 2,000 UK millennials aged 16-34 revealed that just over half are worried that their job will be replaced by robots and more than three-quarters (78 per cent) expect to keep learning new skills throughout their lives to keep up to date with industry knowledge. The value of each person’s competitiveness no longer lies in simply gaining necessary knowledge. It also requires them to develop a dexterity for learning.”

Stephen Cooper, head of industrial manufacturing at KPMG UK, said: “UK manufacturers will view Mrs May’s proposals as a long awaited and much needed step towards a consistent approach to help Britain’s economy adjust and succeed post-Brexit. It is encouraging to see the government welcoming industry views and expertise to drive this strategy forward.

“We work with organisations in the automotive and aerospace sectors, such as the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) and ADS, who recognise the importance of collaborating with government, and this approach has seen success. As the boundaries between traditional sectors start to blur due to advances in technology, it's essential for industry to embrace this open relationship with government.

“Investment in infrastructure, additional access to finance and increased support from government to address access to talent through STEM funding are all positives, however, how the skills challenge will be managed in the short-term remains to be seen. These are all key areas that need to focused on if Britain is to remain competitive and as a good location for foreign direct investment.

“Every manufacturer is thinking about digitalisation and advancing technologies, and the proposed R&D funding and support in science, research and innovation is critical for industry to operate effectively in the future. This announcement certainly takes us a step forward.”

“It’s a step in the right direction, but it contradicts current government policies’ said Mike Foster, Chief executive of the Energy and Utilities Alliance, EUA.

“Whilst we are encouraged that the government recognise the need for an updated ‘energy framework’ it is clear that there is work to be done to line up this strategy with current policies.

“Policies such as the Climate Change Levy and the proposed SAP 2016 will actually increase energy costs for households and businesses, yet the affordability of energy is a top priority according to the green paper. It will be interesting to see how the government plan to harmonise these policies.

“The paper also sets out three major challenges for energy policy that the strategy will address. Top of that list is ‘to ensure that the shift to a low carbon economy is done in a way that minimises the cost to UK businesses, taxpayers, and consumers.’ Seems sensible, but there is no mention of the UK’s most valuable energy asset- the gas grid.

“Currently delivering gas into the homes and businesses of over 85 per cent of the population via a first class distribution network, developed over many years, the gas grid is key to delivering a low carbon economy.

“Decarbonising the gas going into the grid, using so called green gases such as Biomethane and bio-SNG in addition to hydrogen, will deliver affordable and sustainable solutions to the challenges the UK faces and we will continue to work with the government to this end, after all ‘It is the private sector that will ultimately be the driving force behind our low carbon economy.”

The Government's 'Building our Industrial Stategy' green paper can be downloaded by clicking here.

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