The UK’s Plan for Growth

UK employment numbers have been encouraging, with the employment rate growing faster than in the US and three times faster than in Germany

BY H.E. ANTONY PHILLIPSON, BRITISH HIGH COMMISSIONER

 

Since the Coalition Government came to office in 2010, you will have heard much from us at the High Commission about the focus on driving up our export performance and continuing to attract high-quality inward investment.

 

A big part of that is, of course, what we do here in terms of identifying commercial opportunities in Singapore and, increasingly, in the wider region. But an equally important part, if not more important, is the work that is underway in the UK to set out a new industrial strategy.

 

Put simply, while we recognise that it is Britain’s companies and businesses that are going to deliver the success we all want to see, we do not believe that the only thing Government can do is to get out of the way. At an international level, we have a role to play in terms of setting the rules of trade, using our political relationships to open up markets and to help trade and investment flow freely. At a national level, Government actions send messages to and affect business and market behaviour. We can, therefore, have an industrial strategy by default or design, and this Government has decided on the latter.

 

The aim of developing this strategy is to set out a long-term, forward-looking, “whole of Government” approach to fostering a climate for business that encourages investment and delivers the conditions for growth.

 

For me, the key aspects are not only the content in terms of the specific policies and activities but also the fundamental shift in the Government’s approach to partnership with business.

 

The need for such a partnership has been a constant theme in the Government’s economic policy since it came to office. From the Prime Minister down, Ministers have stressed that we must understand what business needs, and then deliver it by working with, and identifying actions which benefit, businesses across the whole supply chain whether they are large, medium or small.

 

It’s not just the traditional economic departments that need to focus on this but the whole of Government. That’s why the Foreign Secretary has been clear that supporting the prosperity agenda is one of his top three priorities for the Foreign & Commonwealth Office (FCO); and why we have seen a wholesale shift in resources within the FCO to the emerging powers and particularly those in Asia.

 

As for the content of the industrial strategy, the Government has started to map this out in recent months, starting with a speech from Business Secretary Vince Cable last September. The key themes are that we will:

 

• develop partnership strategies with specific sectors such as aerospace, energy, life sciences, education,construction and professional services.

 

• support long-term plans for technology investment and identify and develop new, potentially disruptive technologies. Supporting the technologies of the future requires us to address some of the market failures involved, especially during the development phase, and to ensure there is a pipeline of skilled people to work in them. We will invest in emerging technologies, where the UK has the depth of research expertise and the business capability to develop, exploit and protect these. It is essential that UK scientists and innovators are able to work with the best in the world to maintain their strong reputation for excellence and attract inward investment. Here and around the world the UK Science & Innovation Network will continue to promote UK science and innovation and help UK practitioners to build strategic science collaborations and technology partnerships with their international counterparts.

 

• leverage business investment to support skills. Developing the skills that business and the wider economy need is fundamental to supporting growth. Government funds must support and encourage investment by the private sector. And we want to give employers greater control of how Government funding of vocational skills is spent.

 

• ensure we get the most out of procurement. The Government is a major contributor to growth through what it buys. In April 2012 we published details of £70 billion of future contracts that are planned across 13 sectors. We updated this in November and added new sectors such as financial services and professional services. The pipeline now stands at £84 billion of potential opportunities. We are working with business to use this information to assess the strategic capabilities required in the supply chain.

 

• create a Government-backed business bank which will receive £1 billion of new Government funding. The business bank will aim to address long standing, structural gaps in the supply of finance to businesses, facilitate the development of non-bank finance, and bring together the Government’s business finance and support interventions.

 

This agenda will take time to deliver, but it is essential if we are to create a business climate that will support sustainable economic recovery and allow us to achieve our export targets and attract the investment we need for future growth. The benefit will be felt by all UK businesses, and those looking for a high quality investment location. Those that we deal with through the Chamber here certainly fit into those categories and we welcome both your views, and your partnership as we go forward.

 
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