It would be easy to be cynical about this week’s Cabinet meeting that was held in Cheshire. Ministers forced out of their Whitehall offices to gather in the frozen North.A quick photo opportunity, meetings with hand picked business people( but definitely not the public), then back to London.
On this occasion however there was a real point in coming North.After a wobble last summer Theresa May seems to be taking the Northern Powerhouse (NP) seriously.As part of the new industrial strategy, the NP is getting a £556m cash boost.Much of this will be channeled through the Local Enterprise Partnerships who,its hoped will begin to raise their profiles as engines of growth,productivity and skills. Among the specific schemes are £10m for small businesses in Greater Manchester and Cheshire involved in the new industries around life sciences. Our heritage is not forgotten with plans for a major revamp for Blackpool’s Winter gardens. The resort hopes it will encourage the political parties back from Birmingam and Manchester for their annual conferences. I think the hotel offer will have to improve before that happens.
The main thrust of the new industrial strategy is for government to target help on particular sectors were future jobs will come from. Juergen Maier,the boss of Siemens UK will head up a review into the impact of digitalisation across industry. Other sectors indentified include life sciences,the nuclear and creative industries.
We have seen many industrial strategies come and go and yet UK productivity remains stubbornly behind our competitors. It is an issue that the new leader of the North West Busienss Leadership Team will be taking up. It is to be welcomed that they have appointed a woman, Emma Degg. The North West business scene remains very male, if not stale. Degg used to work for the North West Development Agency which was doing good work in all these fields until it was scrapped for petty political reasons by the Coalition government.
The Business Secretary Greg Clarke is in charge of this strategy. He is one of the better Tory Cabinet Ministers having gained a good reputation when he held the Local Government portfolio. He has identified ten strategic pillars. We shall see if they are Greg’s ten pillars of wisdom.Besides the obvious ones of skills and science research, there is to be a drive to improve government procurement and deliver clean energy growth. Restoring the subsidies would be a start.
Improving productivity is a long term challenge which requires better management and a better educated and motivated workforce.In that connection let’s hope the specialist maths schools and technical colleges mark a move away from an excessive emphasis on university education. Vocational qualifications will be as useful as a degree in the next few years.
The question remains how robust this industrial strategy will be as the consequences of Brexit and the Trump Presidency begin to kick in.
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