Industrial Strategy: is government starting to listen?

Now that the summer is long gone and the party conference season over, we are fast approaching a critically important period for manufacturing – politically and economically. As the Brexit negotiations pick up pace and the government prepares to publish its Industrial Strategy, Terry Scuoler welcomes the signs of a new pragmatism.

Big Ben House of Parliament UK Government Industrial Strategy Union Jack European Union Flags - Stock Image
The position that the UK stays in the single market and customs union during a proposed transition period has gained ground.

The content and publication of the Industrial Strategy White Paper, plus November’s Budget will be an important signal of the government’s support and partnership with industry.

The 10 pillars highlighted in the initial Green Paper remain valid, and our own key themes in our Budget submission to the Treasury support and build on those pillars.

These themes, in particular, the focus on support for innovation, training and skills, a competitive energy policy, modern infrastructure and the devolution of decision making to the regions, are critical to our sector and the wider economy.

We will continue to work with both the Treasury and the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy on these issues and we will be looking for supportive measures for our sector in the Industrial Strategy and the Budget.

Turning to Brexit, I believe the tectonic plates shifted on the morning of 9 June when, contrary to expectation, Theresa May failed to secure a parliamentary majority, and thereby failed to achieve a mandate for a potentially hard Brexit.

Since then, we have noticed a welcome ideological stepping back from the previous potential hard Brexit position, and a far more constructive sense of compromise and realism is now behind our negotiating position.

The effect of the Prime Minister’s speech in Florence last month, and subsequent events might have overtaken this column, but I believe a meaningful transition period of three years will give UK businesses time to adapt to whatever settlement is agreed.

EEF’s position – supported by every other major business representative body – that we stay in the single market and customs union during a proposed transition period has gained ground.

This article first appeared in the October issue of The Manufacturer magazine. To subscribe, please click here.

The next election is planned for May 2022, and this will no doubt play a part in determining the duration of any transition period. The sooner a transition period is agreed the better, and we at EEF are pressing for agreement during the next round of talks commencing later this month.

These talks have marked a renewed effort by government to re-engage with business to ensure that the needs of those in the private sector who, after all, create the wealth and employment that we are going to need even more after Brexit, have their best interests taken into account.

Some may say it is not before time and should have happened in the immediate period after the referendum, but better late than not at all.

I can assure you – on behalf of all manufacturers – that I am working with colleagues in the other major business groups to ensure this cooperation takes place.

In particular, we are working closely with the Business Secretary, Greg Clark, who continues to work very closely with us to ensure that our views are reflected to his Cabinet colleagues. I hope this type of cooperation may long continue for the benefit of all manufacturers.