Industrial Strategy

A couple of hundred business leaders, academics and government representatives from across the country came together yesterday at “We The Curious”. They were in Bristol at the behest of Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy to mark one year since the publication of the Government’s Industrial Strategy, and engage in its continued development.

This is a vital piece of work. In Bristol we have set out to write a City Plan in the name of setting out our city’s future before it is handed to us by people and events that are not under our control. I understand the Industrial Strategy the same way – an attempt to be intentional about how we grow and strengthen our economy. It identifies four grand challenges:

  • Artificial Intelligence and data
  • Ageing society
  • Clean growth
  • Future of mobility

The argument is that successfully tackling these will put the UK at the forefront of the industries of the future. The Industrial Strategy also provides a mechanism for Government to support innovation, and our city’s success in this area is being noticed, with the Secretary of State Greg Clark publishing a new Aerospace Sector Deal yesterday providing £15m of investment for GKN’s new Global Technology Centre in Bristol.

We were broken into small groups to discuss the strategy’s development to date and the key challenges for our respective parts of the country. I took the opportunity to stress the importance of the strategy explicitly recognising the interdependence of social and economic outcomes.

In the short time I raised a number of points:

– I want the Industrial Strategy to make an explicit commitment to inclusive growth. I don’t mean we do the “serious” job of growing the economy and then run a project to get poor people involved. I mean unlock the challenge of developing an economic culture and machinery systemically includes and reduces inequality.

– Social immobility is an economic liability. It leaves unquantifiable amounts of talent undeveloped in a world in which skills is an essential component of any successful city. When we fail to access a diversity of thought, we lose access to the different world views, questions and creative tensions that can be a gateway to innovation and new business opportunities. Moreover, leaving people behind through growing inequality in the face of great wealth creation can result in the kind of social fragmentation, political disillusionment and polarisation that results in instability and further lost talent.

– We should have as high a regard for social policy expertise as an exportable technology as we do for things such a AI and big data capability. Cities across the world are grappling with the challenges of rapid urbanisation and searching for the policy mix that will enable growth without increasing population sickness, gentrification, environmental destruction, food instability, loneliness and many other challenges. While we want to take advantage of robots and AI, we must be careful we don’t end up using technology as the “easy” response to social failures resulting from bad economic growth. The challenges of an ageing society may, for example, be met in part through robots, and the event included an impressive demonstration of an experimental robot providing care support for adults with limited mobility. But longer, healthier more productive lives are also delivered through stronger human relations.

Our job in Bristol is to work with the Industrial Strategy because it present many opportunities in line with Bristol’s strengths, and we are currently working with our partners in the West of England to write a Local Industrial Strategy, to be published next year. As part of that we will ensure we test all assumptions and are explicit about the kind of economic development we need to flourish.


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