The British Confederation of British Industry (CBI) has announced confidently that the fourth industrial revolution is on our doorstep, and the UK is in pole position to benefit from it. Reasons given for this optimistic assessment were its strong eco-system of large and small firms, outstanding science base, proven innovation and unmatched talent pools. Therefore, it suggests, the UK can be one of the world’s winners: “The prize would be reversal of the UK’s poor productivity record, rising living standards and a fairer society.”
Opportunities come with challenges, and so a new kind of industrial strategy is required. “As many as 35% of jobs may be displaced by automation and artificial intelligence: new ones will take their place but will require a strategic approach to retraining. It needs to be long-term, rooted in a new ’partnership of the century’ between government and business, and crucially, it needs to be a ‘leapfrog’ strategy, aimed at the UK overtaking competitors, not just catching up,”
A CBI survey of over 400 firms indicates there is consensus amongst firms that people, innovation and infrastructure are needed to drive living standards across regions and sectors, but all three need to be transformed to power a new, modern economy. Key concerns include uncertain economic outlook and what post-Brexit trade will look like. However, an effective industrial strategy can be a tonic for uncertainty, it found.
The Government is urged to build a new consensus between the political parties and to support this, the CBI recommends the creation of an independent Industrial Strategy body, which could measure, advise and build confidence that this plan will last. Regional industrial strategies are a large part of the solution. Every region of the UK has special strengths that can be unlocked by devolution and tailored strategies. To ensure no part of the UK is left behind, the CBI recommends the appointment of a regional commissioner to oversee delivery, regardless of local political structures.
CBI Director-General, Carolyn Fairbairn, said: “A leapfrog industrial strategy is within reach but not easy and will require a partnership of the century between government and business. Nobody wants to have this conversation again in four years’ time, and jobs and opportunity won’t wait around.
“We look forward to the publication of the Government’s strategy and to working with them and across all parties to build an industrial strategy that can stand the test of time and improve lives across the UK.”