The Raven's Blog


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


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!

Add your comment


public sector executive tv

more videos >

latest public sector news

Councillor charged by police over indecent social media posts

26/09/2018Councillor charged by police over indecent social media posts

Councillor Richard Alderman has been charged by police for allegedly posting “offensive” and “obscene” messages on social... more >
Cllr Cutts on dealing with children’s services pressures: ‘I can’t magic money out of the air’

26/09/2018Cllr Cutts on dealing with children’s services pressures: ‘I can’t magic money out of the air’

The leader of Nottinghamshire County Council has outlined her priorities for dealing with soaring demand of children’s services and social ... more >
Council controversially begins first monthly bin collection in England and Wales

25/09/2018Council controversially begins first monthly bin collection in England and Wales

Monthly bin collections have been introduced for the first time in England and Wales by Conwy County Council, despite major complaints from resid... more >

editor's comment

25/10/2017Take a moment to celebrate

Devolution, restructuring and widespread service reform: from a journalist’s perspective, it’s never been a more exciting time to report on the public sector. That’s why I could not be more thrilled to be taking over the reins at PSE at this key juncture. There could not be a feature that more perfectly encapsulates this... read more >

last word

The importance of openness after Grenfell

The importance of openness after Grenfell

Following the recent Grenfell Tower tragedy, Lord Porter, chairman of the LGA, argues that if the public are going to have faith in the safety testing process then everything must be out in the o... more > more last word articles >

the raven's daily blog

Social value: what is it and why?

14/09/2018Social value: what is it and why?

Ben Carpenter, chief executive of Social Value UK, discusses the worth of social value, and argues that, before we start measuring social value, we should ask clearly: what is it, and why? Social value is so much more than a value for money exercise. If you see social value as simply a new catchphrase for ‘efficiency savings’... more >
read more blog posts from 'the raven' >


Crown Commercial Service: Travel solutions on track

10/09/2018Crown Commercial Service: Travel solutions on track

Katrina Williams, head of travel at the Crown Commercial Service (CCS), explains how they are helping government organisations to get the best de... more >
LEPs need to do more for England's countryside

10/09/2018LEPs need to do more for England's countryside

Paul Miner, head of strategic plans and devolution at the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE), highlights the findings of a recent survey wh... more >
What about social care?

10/09/2018What about social care?

Cllr Izzi Seccombe, chairman of the LGA’s Community Wellbeing Board, looks at the exclusion of social care from the government’s rece... more >
Re-evaluating public service reforms

10/09/2018Re-evaluating public service reforms

Chris Painter, professor emeritus at Birmingham City University, explores the paradox of reform principles persisting despite mounting evidence a... more >


Michael King: Time for Ombudsman reform

06/08/2018Michael King: Time for Ombudsman reform

Michael King first joined the Local Government Ombudsman service back in 2004 as deputy ombudsman. At the start of 2017, he was appointed as the ... more >
Helping a city understand itself

06/08/2018Helping a city understand itself

SPONSORED INTERVIEW The urban landscape is changing. How can local authorities keep up with citizen behaviour? Stephen Leece, managing directo... more >
Modern policing: the future is bright

06/08/2018Modern policing: the future is bright

SPONSORED INTERVIEW The public sector, and policing in particular, has often been criticised as being slow to adapt to change. But now, says L... more >
Data at the heart of digital transformation

03/04/2018Data at the heart of digital transformation

SPONSORED INTERVIEW Grant Caley, UK & Ireland chief technologist at NetApp, speaks to PSE’s Luana Salles about the benefits of movin... more >

public sector focus

View all News