Industrial strategy promises major boost to UK training and research

27 Nov 17

The government’s long-awaited industrial strategy – launched today - has promised major investments in skills training and research in the UK.

It will plough £725m over the next three years into the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund - bringing together research and business - with the aim of “making the UK the world’s most innovative nation by 2030”.

The strategy has pledged to help British industry become more competitive by boosting training with an extra £406m for education in science, technology, engineering and maths (the so-called STEM subjects).

It has also promised £64m for a National Retraining Scheme, which will focus initially on helping people improve skills in digital and construction.

Under the new plans, government investment in research and development will rise from 1.7% to 2.4% GDP in the next ten years, marking what the white paper calls “the biggest increase in public investment in R&D in our history”.

This could mean an extra £80bn investment in advanced technology, according to government estimates.

The industrial strategy also confirmed £5m funding to help refresh the skills of public sector staff, first announced in the 2017 Spring Budget.

Its programmes will refresh the skills of returning teachers, social workers and allied health professionals in England, as well as for people interested in becoming civil servants in England and Scotland, the government explained. 

David Willetts, a former Conservative minister and now chair of the Resolution Foundation think tank, said the strategy needed to concentrate more on lower paying sectors. 

“Industrial strategies inevitably focuses on exciting new industries, such as AI and life sciences,” Willetts said.

“But to be truly transformative for living standards, this new strategy needs to focus more on lower paying sectors such as retail, which employs three million people.”

Carolyn Fairbairn, the director general of the Confederation of British Industry, warned that today’s announcement “must be the beginning of a strategic race, not a tactical sprint”, and urged the government to ensure the effects of Brexit were not allowed to harm industrial strategies as they are rolled out across the nation.

“There must be no missed turns on the path to UK 2030,” she said.

Business secretary Greg Clark called the strategy “an unashamedly ambitious vision for the future of our country,” arguing it will help address four “grand challenges” facing the UK.

These challenges being guaranteeing the mobility of workers and goods, securing clean growth, dealing with an ageing population, and the opportunities offered by artificial intelligence and the digital revolution.

Clarke added: “The way we earn and live our lives as workers, citizens and consumers is being transformed by new technologies.

“The UK is well-placed to benefit from this new industrial revolution and we start from a position of significant strength.”

He added: “We have a thriving research and science base and are home to a wide range of innovative sectors, from advanced manufacturing and life sciences, to fintech and creative industries.”

The government had already previously committed £1 billion to the first wave of Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund projects, including investing £246m in next generation battery technology and £86 million in robotics hubs across the UK.

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