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11.12.17

Whole of government must act together to fulfil the ambition of the Industrial Strategy

Jen Rae, head of innovation policy at Nesta, says the aims in the government’s new Industrial Strategy are ambitious, but will require a shift in policymaking in order to be realised in full.

Last Monday saw the long-awaited launch of the UK’s new Industrial Strategy, the government’s plan for prosperity and growth in a Britain that’s ‘fit for the future.’ Weighing in at a chunky 250 pages – as befitting the scale of the challenge faced by the UK – the document’s publication signals the start of a policy process that will need to move beyond departmental silos. Contributions must come from across levels of government if there is to be any hope of the strategy achieving its goal. It should also involve serious investment in better data, and some experimentation with policies to promote innovation.

From Nesta’s perspective as the UK’s innovation foundation, we were certainly pleased with the rhetoric of the strategy: investment in innovation was front and centre. It was backed up by a commitment to an ambitious 2.4% target for R&D investment, with a particular focus on the ‘development’ aspect to capitalise on the UK’s world-leading strengths in research. The strategy also targeted two of the UK’s important longstanding concerns: addressing its worrying productivity performance, and making a renewed commitment to focus the UK’s skills and education system on preparing the workforce for the jobs of the future, with increased emphasis on lifelong learning.

That ambition must now be matched with execution. One of the most interesting announcements within the strategy was the creation of an independent Industrial Strategy Council, with membership to be drawn from leading figures across business and academia. It will “develop measures to assess and evaluate the strategy and make recommendations to the government” – with funding to commission specific evaluation projects.

But we’d argue that one of the most important functions that this new body could play would be to move beyond the role of mere watchdog – to support and encourage a whole-of-government approach with much better coordination. And crucially, to invest in the data and evidence required to really deliver on the vision for this Industrial Strategy.

Progress is going to require unprecedented effort across the whole of government. Many of the policy levers required fall outside the remit of the immediately responsible department – Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy. In particular, large-scale changes to skills provision will involve serious traction over Department for Education policy and spending decisions. Equally, new Local Industrial Strategies, designed to tackle uneven distribution of growth throughout the country, pass a responsibility to local areas which will need to be matched with control over policy. The vision for Local Industrial Strategies outlined in the white paper covers innovation, skills, infrastructure, devolution and the emerging sector deals, to “build on local strengths and deliver on economic opportunities.”

Data is going to be crucial here. While strategies of all kinds depend on good intelligence – particularly at a sub-national level – traditional data sources are not going to be enough for measuring, analysing and informing policies targeted specifically at new and innovative sectors. Dynamic ‘big data’ approaches will be required. These should be real-time and effectively capture and report evidence about new industries and collaborations. These new approaches to data for policymaking offer more timely and reliable information about the performance of sectors, emerging business clusters and the changing economies of local areas. This should facilitate decisions about where and how to invest, and give added confidence to those making the decisions. It will also make it easier to keep an eye on how well policies are working.

Science and Innovation Audits, undertaken over the last two years by local areas across the country, are a start. But there’s lots more that the government could be doing. For example, exploring the power and possibility of big data with new dynamic data sources and tools for policymaking (like the Welsh Government’s Arloesiadur, built by Nesta).  A long-term commitment to fund experimentation in innovation policy would support policymakers to try out new ideas, but with a requirement of implementing robust evaluation to learn what works. Nesta’s Innovation Growth Lab helps policymakers across the world to do exactly this.

The aims of the Industrial Strategy are ambitious. But it’s going to take a different approach to policymaking to make the step change required to deliver them.

Top image c. Robert Ingelhart

Comments

Marcus Gibson   11/12/2017 at 17:26

This article is embarrassing for NESTA - an organisation that has done absolutely nothing for UK industry - engineering and manufacturing - for more than 10 years. This in spite of its early remit to help innovators and inventors. NESTA just spent more than £50m on a new HQ in London - a disgrace. Who signed this off ? NESTA, like Innovate UK, needs to be closed down as it serves no useful function. Innovate UK spends only 4% of funding in Yorks-Humber, and 5% in the North West - another disgrace. Sack them all!

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