Business Secretary Vince Cable today provided details of the Government’s industrial strategy but confirmed that he couldn’t guarantee that the strategy would be upheld longer than the period of a parliamentary term.
Speaking at Imperial College at the launch of the industrial strategy today, Dr Cable emphasised the importance of long term planning and long term strategy to the health of a country’s industrial base.
He cited the examples of Germany, Finland, Japan and even the US as countries where government worked closely with industry on a range of business infrastructure factors like finance and regulation, where some state intervention in specific sectors worked to drive growth.
He said: “We have for too long treated the term “picking winners” as taboo,” and later added, “We are committed to compete while being an open economy. Protectionism is not part of our vision of an industrial strategy.”
The success of the 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games, he said, was another example of the value of a long term approach to not only sport, but industry. “I was initially a sceptic but, the Games themselves have delivered an outstanding result for the UK because of years of planning and investment in pursuit of a clear and ambitious vision.”
But when asked to what extent he could guarantee that the industrial strategy would remain functioning beyond the current parliamentary term, Dr Cable said: “I can’t absolutely guarantee that [the strategy] will continue, but in the language I’m using and the arguments we’re employing we are trying to create a common ground. And there is a lot of common ground already – as I said earlier, I’ve leaned quite heavily on Lord Heseltine’s ideas, going back a generation, and my predecessor [Lord Mandelson] helped to introduce the Automotive Council, so there is quite a lot of continuity [between the political parties].”
He added: “My starting point is that its very destructive when you have massive changes in policy from one government to the other, so I hope what I am doing and the arguments that I’ve used will commend themselves to the next government whoever it is.”
Many stakeholders in industry – businessmen, trade associations, chief executives of engineering firms and universities – have called for an industrial strategy to be enshrined in legislation to avoid tinkering or outright cancellation when a government administration changes.
The new strategy proposed by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills stops short of providing that kind of true long term commitment.