From the TUC

Unions and employers unite on industrial strategy

01 Jul 2009, by in Economics, Working Life

Who said this?

“The UK economy needs to be weaned off its dependency on financial services. To do this, it needs a national economic council to provide strategic leadership and an industrial bank to help businesses shunned by traditional high street lenders. Other ways to help could include the government sending signals about its long term priorities to give companies the confidence to invest. Government should also use its £175bn a year purchasing power to suport emerging industries and it should target investment in strategic sectors of the economy.”

Those words have been voiced today not by the TUC or any of our affiliates. They actually come from the EEF, the manufacturers’ organisation representing companies in the sector. In other words, these are the words of the business lobby. But there’s not a word here that we would disagree with.

When the TUC published its paper, ‘An Industrial Strategy for the United Kingdom’, back in 2005, we were a lonely voice. Now, four years and a severe economic downturn later, Peter Mandelson puts the case for industrial activism and the EEF, the voice of employers, seeks an industrial strategy.

For those of us who believe in industrial policy, this could be our moment. The political, business and trade union world have found common cause on this issue. But we need to act fast. A short, sharp project to identify strategic industrial sectors and how to support them is needed. That needn’t take long. Skills policy must be brought into the mix, so that the training given to the unemployed, for example, dovetails with the skills needed by the industries of the future. Whilst the importance of blue sky science must be recognised and protected, the scientific community must be harnessed, so that cutting edge research can support this national project still further. A renewed effort to improve maths and science skills in our schools and universities is needed.

And, of course, employers and trade unions must be brought on board to guide and support this work. Without the business acumen of our best companies and the talents of our workforce, none of this is possible.

As the EEF Chief Executive, Gilbert Topping, says, other countries have had smart and successful industrial strategies in the years when Britain has taken a purist approach. He is right. Germany, France, China and the US all have smart industrial strategies. If the UK does not join them, after this recession and in a globalised economy, will the last person to leave these shores please turn off the lights?