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Industrial Strategy to be given a refresh

05 February, 2021

The UK government is refreshing the national industrial strategy that will put science and technological advancements at the forefront of growth. In addition, the refreshed strategy is touted to focus more on levelling up regional economies, increasing innovation and adoption of technologies more widely. Stephen Phipson, MAKE UK, chief executive explains further for Smart Machines & Factories.

Generally, it is agreed that the industrial strategy does need a refresh but equally so we should not make a habit out of changing long-term strategies every 3-4 years for a sector that commonly plans 10 years ahead. Nevertheless, the UK manufacturing industry is changing. This is partly down to the recent shock from the pandemic with many businesses seeing the benefits of digitisation sooner. Historically, smaller companies have struggled to adopt simple technological solutions to increase their productivity but now many are doing so at an alarming rate. Initiatives such as Made Smarter has shown this is possible but more needs to be done if manufacturing is to reach its potential. Small firms need to realise that digitisation is not just for big businesses. The industrial strategy can play a pivotal role in supporting this.

The UK is a great innovator and the industrial strategy needs to create conditions for business that enables them to go beyond adopting simple digital techniques such as video conferencing and wirelessly monitoring machines. There must be a shift in mind-set amongst UK businesses to look at deeper technologies, such as carbon capture, quantum programming and active supply-chain data capture. All this needs to be incorporated into a long-term, viable strategy that prioritises achieving net-zero targets. And on top it must be able to do so at scale by fabricating conditions that enables start-ups to become scale-ups. A prime example of an industry that is embracing carbon reducing techniques is the automotive sector – which includes the introduction of electric vehicles. However, long-term, this sector is looking beyond electric vehicles and are considering alternative (or complementary) techniques to reduce the UK’s carbon footprint. This could be anything from hydrogen fuel to redesigning vehicles themselves so that they are lighter and take less energy to go from point A to point B. Of course, the automotive industry will be making these investment plans that stretch over decades, and as such a national industrial strategy must be designed with a similar timescale in mind. The manufacturing sector is not one that is able to operate using short-term strategies.

An industrial strategy that prioritises technology and carbon neutrality will face a mountain of challenges. Especially as it is likely to result in the displacement of obsolete jobs. However, as previous industrial revolutions have shown us, technological advancements always returns a net-positive creation of jobs and the real question is how we retrain those in obsolete roles for the jobs of tomorrow.

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