ICAS on pillar 1 of the industrial strategy

Brexit Insights
By David Wood, Executive Director, Policy Leadership and James Barbour, Director, Policy Leadership

30 January 2017

The Prime Minister has launched proposals for a new modern industrial strategy for the UK. The strategy comprises 10 key strategic pillars, pillar 1 is analysed below.

Pillar 1. Investing in science, research and innovation

This has always been crucial but arguably never more so, at a time when advances in technology are happening at a faster rate than ever before.

The internet as we know it has only been in existence for 25 or so years but it has had a fundamental impact on peoples’ everyday lives, how they interact, and how business is undertaken. As the Government identifies, one of the biggest issues to be tacked is: “Despite its strengths in science, Britain has until now been relatively weak on commercialisation, meaning that all too often ideas developed in this country end up being commercialised elsewhere.”

The Green Paper identifies that the “UK makes less use of robotics and automation than most other countries in Western Europe.” But it does not examine the next logical step. Will the natural increase in the use of robots and other technological advances result in increased productivity at the cost of reducing the number of people employed?

Whilst many argue that the increased use of technology will mean that people reskill and hopefully move to higher skilled and better paid employment, the true impact of increased automation is still to be seen.

Bigger societal issues may need to be addressed if automation leads to wholesale loss of employment – and the question of “social income” may well rise up the political agenda in the coming years.

As highlighted in the Green Paper, the UK investment of 1.7% of GDP in private and public R&D funding trails behind many of our competitors. This lack of foresight needs to change.

The Government’s plan to provide an additional £4.7 billion of funding by 2020-21 (an increase of around 20% to total government R&D spending) is welcome although we would need to see the detail in relation to how the Government can best use this additional funding and the tax environment for R&D to drive up the level of private investment in science, research and innovation across the economy.

Key to the UK’s success will be the ability to turn research and innovation into commercial products and services – an area where other countries have often been more successful than us.

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