What exactly is an industrial strategy?
What is Theresa May’s ‘industrial strategy’ exactly? No one at the Labour conference is too sure. I have not heard a single business figure from the various transport, energy and infrastructure fringes I’ve been to get excited about it.
The reason for this goes beyond its vagueness. If we take two sectors as examples, energy and aviation, both of which should be at the heart of any industrial strategy, the reasons why there is little excitement becomes clear. Instead of focusing on the umbrella term of the industrial strategy, businesses are more focused on the struggles they are facing in their own sector. And in the context of energy and aviation, it is a lack of clarity and direction from Government.
During the New Statesman fringe on infrastructure development this morning, representatives from Gatwick, Manchester and Newcastle airports were fiercely critical of the stagnation in aviation policy in the UK “since 2003”. The Davies Commission has led to more head scratching with its outdated data and the inconclusive case it puts forward. There is an increasing expectation from the airports that the decision could be to grant both Heathrow and Gatwick additional runways which raises questions around the rationale and precedent of setting a time consuming process of an independent commission that is subsequently ignored.
Labour are failing to address industry concerns in this respect too. All too often, decision making on major projects such as HS2 and airport expansion is met with the response that it must tick Labour’s vague checklist of deliverables before they are happy with it. This was also the party’s policy on shale up until the clearer ban outlined yesterday.
There are green shoots on this subject, however. The recently formed National Infrastructure Commission has cross-party support with both leading parties claiming the idea was originally theirs. Unlike the industrial strategy, it is also welcomed by the business figures we’ve seen at conference. They are optimistic that it will help to inject some much needed long-term thinking and impartiality into the UK’s infrastructure needs. How this will fit with May’s industrial strategy remains to be seen.