Greg Clark: Britain’s industrial strategy needs an upgrade fit for the future

Britain's industrial strategy will seek to provide easier routes to market for new business models and tap into the benefits of innovation and competition to allow for the creation of more sustainable products and services, Business and Energy Secretary Greg Clark has said.

Speaking at a reception for journalists yesterday evening (6 September) at a building opposite the offices of the newly-formed Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy (BEIS), Clark proclaimed “there is an opportunity for an upgrade” across British industry, to ensure the nation’s businesses, infrastructure and cities are “fit for the future”.

“[The industrial strategy] must not be a strategy for incumbents – we need to make Britain a place where new entrants come in, new businesses are created, and new industries challenge the existing ones,” the Tunbridge Wells MP said. “A very clear objective that all of us have is to make sure that our industries and our markets are open to challenge and change and competition – that’s a big responsibility.

“As is the interest of consumers; making sure that the benefits of innovation and competition through new and excellent products… to change the way that people live their lives. Part of the point of the economy is that it should make life better for the people within it and I’ve appointed [Minister for Small Business, Consumers and Corporate Responsibility] Margot James with a specific responsibility for that.

“Prime Minister Theresa May talked a lot about an economy that works for everyone and it’s important that all parts of our country and society benefit from the opportunities we have. In terms of social mobility, we all have to fulfil our potential to advance businesses and employers – the importance of business in that social agenda is absolutely crucial.”

Industrial upgrade

Looking forward, Clark believes there is a “national opportunity” for Britain to move away from a ‘take-make-use-dispose’ industrial culture to one based on upgradable products and services.

“Obviously we’ve got the challenge of Brexit, but I sense we are at an important point of transition in the industrial character of a lot of different sectors,” he added. “In the past, industrial products and processes were never as good as the day they were made – ‘disposability’ was the way things operated.

“Increasingly, there is a model of industrial organisation and a way we consume goods and services that is about upgrades, about things getting better – your phone might have a software upgrade that allows it to do more and different things; you might find in the retail sector that the same shops can be upgraded in terms of what they can do and offer.

“If we look at the basis for our industrial competitiveness, in many cases I think there’s an opportunity to have an upgrade.”

The inclusion of the term ‘industrial strategy’ in the formation of BEIS and the indication of May that her new-look Government will intervene to support certain parts of the economy has been largely welcomed by green groups and industry bodies as a positive move for the evolution of sustainable business.

Commenting on the new industrial strategy, a spokesperson for EEF, the manufacturer’s organisation, said: “The commitment to developing a modern industrial strategy by the whole of Government, not just the business department, is welcome. Whilst there were some positives from the previous approach under the coalition, there were also some weaknesses and lessons to learn.

“One of these was the failure to include energy & climate policy as part of this strategy. We now need to see policies within the overall strategy which reduce energy costs whilst, at the same time encouraging investment in business opportunities provided by energy efficiency and a realistic road to a low carbon and resource efficient economy.”

The Business, Innovation and Skills Committee recently launched an enquiry into the Government’s industrial strategy which is primarily questioning how interventionist in the free market it should be, such as whether it should prevent foreign takeover of UK companies.

Green policy wishlist

Clark was speaking on the same night that Climate Change and Industry Minister Nick Hurd confirmed that the UK will move to ratify the Paris Agreement on climate change “as soon as possible”. Speaking at an Aldersgate Group event, Hurd insisted that the treaty must be matched by a resilient domestic low-carbon energy policy in collaboration with the business sector. Read that full story here.

The Paris Agreement ratification is one of a multitude of green policy challenges that Clark and his BEIS team faces, following a controversial ‘chop-and-change’ approach that had been adopted by its departmental predecessor, DECC, over the past couple of years.

This week, edie compiled a ‘green policy wishlist’ for the green economy, which details 16 issues that sustainability professionals and green groups would like to see addressed as priorities by BEIS in this autumn Parliamentary session – ranging from the creation of a clear and ambitious energy efficiency strategy through to the development of a new CCS programme. Read that two-part feature here.

Luke Nicholls

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