May intends to ‘grasp the bigger prize’ with modern industrial strategy

Theresa May is to set out her flagship Modern Industrial Strategy today, the policy which sits at the core of her government’s vision for post-Brexit Britain

The Prime Minister is using her first regional Cabinet meeting today to launch a new, more interventionist industrial strategy aimed at bridging the productivity gap and driving growth across the regions of the UK.

More detail is being provided today on the next steps in Theresa May’s Plan for Britain, as outlined in the speech last week when she set out government’s 12 priorities in the Brexit negotiations. The Modern Industrial Strategy published today sets out how the UK can “seize the opportunities presented by Brexit” in areas from research and innovation to trade and investment.

“Our modern Industrial Strategy is a critical part of our plan for post-Brexit Britain,” May said. “As we leave the EU it will help us grasp the bigger prize: the chance to build that stronger, fairer Britain that stands tall in the world and is set up to succeed in the long-term.”

Business-driven sector deals form strategy’s backbone

The green paper centres around new ‘Sector Deals’, driven by the interests of business, to address sector-specific challenges and opportunities. The government says it will offer a range of support as part of the deals, including the removal of regulatory barriers to innovation and growth, using trade and investment deals to increase exports, and backing new institutions to provide leadership and boost skills.

It also sets out technologies where strengths already exist in research and development – such as smart energy technologies, robotics and artificial intelligence, and 5G mobile network technology – which could be supported through the new Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund.

The stated aim of the industrial strategy is to improve living standards and economic growth by increasing productivity and driving growth across the whole country. To achieve that goal, the strategy sets out the 10 pillars that will underpin government’s new approach:

  •  Investing in science, research and innovation
  • Developing skills
  • Upgrading infrastructure
  • Supporting businesses to start and grow
  • Improving procurement
  • Encouraging trade and inward investment policy
  • Delivering affordable energy and clean growth
  • Cultivating world-leading sectors
  • Driving growth across the whole country
  • Creating the right institutions to bring together sectors and places

A credible alternative to academia

The second point in the strategy includes plans for an overhaul of technical education, to address what the government call its “historic undervaluation” and provide an alternative route for young people who choose not to go to university.

Proposals put forward include:

  • £170m to establish new Institutes of Technology, responsible for higher level technical education in STEM subjects. This will replace thousands of qualifications, many of which are low quality, with just 15 core technical “routes” designed specifically to respond to the needs of industry.
  • Using the free school model to expand specialist maths education, working with local partners such as university maths departments.
  • Tackling the shortage of STEM skills, by encouraging their growth in higher education and exploring options to incentivise higher numbers of STEM graduates.
  • Testing new ways to promote lifelong learning, particularly where industries are changing or in decline. Government will consider the role of centres of community learning and review the option of maintenance loans for higher technical education.

Government will also work with local areas on new approaches to closing the skills gap, potentially including: Improving pre-school education, new schemes to support attraction and retention of graduates, and increasing take-up of apprenticeships.

“The UK has some of the best universities in the world and our schools are improving, yet for too long technical education for school leavers has been neglected – with large differences in skill levels between regions,” added the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, Greg Clark. “We must improve skills and opportunities so we can close the gap between the best people, places and businesses and the rest.”

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