24. January 2017

Be in it to win it: how business should respond to the industrial strategy

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The Government’s industrial strategy is a new twist on an old theme. For business, it’s a case of ‘over to you’ to drive progress out of the proposals. The door is theoretically open to all. However, the most likely winners will be those who get well organised and present a politically compelling case.

What was expected, what was not

The key themes were largely expected (our thoughts from November here). Innovation, skills, high value sectors, infrastructure and ‘place’.

The interest is in how these themes have been weaved together. Clark’s passion for ‘place’ runs through the Green Paper like Blackpool through a stick of rock. Even ‘horizontal’ factors such as skills have a strong local dimension. Although there are some well trailed national initiatives, such as a likely new centre of excellence for battery technology, there is a much longer list of funding for LEPs and specific local projects. It was a great day for the people of Goole, for example, as they welcome their new intermodal hub.

But a distributed approach brings challenges. Avoiding inefficient duplication. Providing clarity on the local leadership on industrial strategies (LEPs, Combined Authorities, …). Is the Green Paper a sign post to more devolution of powers and incentives?

Over to you, business – sector deals

The idea of ‘strategic sectors’ is alive and well. But rather than rely on Whitehall to pick winners, today’s announcement is an open challenge for businesses to bid for ‘sector deals’. Some of these sector deals continue the established industrial sector aristocracy – automotive and aerospace for example. The Green Paper acknowledges that work is already underway with some sectors. But there is also a genuine interest in seeing what a range of sectors can come forward with, including the less fashionable. BEIS officials are bracing themselves for a wave of ‘why we matter’ pleas from business.

Not everyone shall have prizes

What might be the keys to standing out in this barrage of advocacy?

Get organised – BEIS have always seen industrial strategy as more about bringing businesses together than as a wish list machine. The Green Paper explicitly restates this. Sector associations have a vital role in coordinating their sectors. But Ministers have been clear than leadership rests with businesses.

Be prepared to commit – Matched commitments – both investment and resources – will be required . The Green Paper even gives specific examples. It’s a ‘something for something’ trade, with businesses expected to literally sign on the bottom line.

Engage nationally and locally – Westminster engagement remains critical. But given the strong regional dimension to the new industrial policy, so is local engagement with LEPs and other local institutions. Demonstrating local engagement and strong local value generation will be an important part of any pitch.

Have a politically compelling proposition – Ministers have been clear that they want compelling propositions. In practice this includes driving value (nationally and locally), growing or securing ‘good’ jobs (high value, skilled and paid), commitment to leading innovation and high skills and, critically, in a Brexit world, representing Britain confidently around the world.

The Government are very serious about their new industrial strategy approach. Whilst the deployment will inevitably be messy the message for business is clear – you’ve got to be in it to win it.

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