Britain has had a sustained industrial strategy now for almost a decade

by: Lord Willetts | on: 06.12.17 | in: Industrial strategy

On Tuesday November 28th the APPG on Inclusive Growth held an event in Parliament to explore the relationship between inclusive growth and industrial strategy. Four leading participants in the current debate on industrial strategy joined us to share their views, including Lord Willetts, Executive Chair of the Resolution Foundation and former Science and Universities Minister. A summary of Lord Willetts’ contribution at the event is set out below.

Author: Lord Willetts Published: 06.12.17 Categories: Industrial strategy

Britain has had a sustained industrial strategy now for almost a decade

by: Lord Willetts | on: 06.12.17 | in: Industrial strategy
On Tuesday November 28th the APPG on Inclusive Growth held an event in Parliament to explore the relationship between inclusive growth and industrial strategy. Four leading participants in the current debate on industrial strategy joined us to share their views, including Lord Willetts, Executive Chair of the Resolution Foundation and former Science and Universities Minister. A summary of Lord Willetts’ contribution at the event is set out below.

“We are told that the problem with industrial strategy is that it’s always chopping and changing. There have been interruptions – there was one for a few months after the Conservative government took office in 2015 where some progress was lost, but it is absolutely back on track with Greg Clark’s excellent report which was out yesterday.

“I think when you look at what Peter Mandelson created in his days at BIS, there are enormous continuities with that programme of work. Then Vince Cable and I arrived in BIS, both sceptical in our different ways –he had written a whole chapter for the Lib Dem’s Orange Book on why the DTI should be abolished – and I had worked for Margaret Thatcher in the days when industrial strategy meant bailing out British Leyland and we had to stop doing it. Both of us in our ways saw the need for industrial strategy and Vince really pushed through a focus on the importance of sectors. This didn’t mean having a strategy for every sector but there are some sectors that really needed government assistance and where there was such close working with government -areas like defence and life sciences – that you couldn’t envisage anything other than a sector approach. I got very interested in promoting new technologies and believe that the long journey from the lab to the marketplace required far more government support than we had historically provided.

“And then we have Greg Clark–who first in his role as Minister for Cities – was absolutely preoccupied with place and recognised that we can’t continue having an economy where London and the South East do very well and have got GDP significantly above average and everywhere else isn’t doing well, and where all of our other major cities have GDP well below the national average. Now I think you see with Greg as Secretary of State for Industrial Strategy that this focus is carrying on.

“In other words you can discover continuities that straddle three political parties. What Greg has written in the White Paper, what Vince and I produced, what Peter Mandelson did, all share a similar approach. There are differences because of the different political persuasions we have but nevertheless Britain has had, with one interruption, a sustained industrial strategy now for almost a decade. The only question is whether you’re open and explicit about it, or whether you’re implicit.

“When I was working for Margaret Thatcher and the City of London was coming in to Downing Street saying ‘if we build Canary Wharf, you’ve got to build the Jubilee Line extension’. We built the Jubilee Line because that’s what the City said was needed for Canary Wharf to be viable – and that was industrial strategy. I often say to my colleagues then that if a manufacturing company had come to say we have a big sector that is developing in another part of the country and for it to thrive we need a new railway line, I’m not sure they would have got it.”

 

Lord Willetts is Executive Chair of the Resolution Foundation and former Science and Universities Minister.

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