British manufacturing has come a long way since the dark days of the mid-1970s, when the Government strategy of ’picking winners’ failed disastrously.
Instead of modernising outdated businesses, Industry Minister Tony Benn sought to prop up lossmaking companies.
At the same time, our rivals across Europe were evolving, as the first wave of computers and semiautomated machines changed working practices. In the early 1970s, Volkswagen were facing financial difficulties but, embracing these changes, they produced popular hatchbacks in the Passat, Golf and Polo which came to dominate the market.
In Britain, the same era was defined by the nationalisation of British Leyland, which became defunct in 1986. We need to learn the lessons of the 1970s, as breakthroughs in technology today present the same opportunities that the German automotive industry seized 40 years ago.
This Fourth Industrial Revolution has the power to create jobs and turbo charge our manufacturing industry. Juergen Maier, Chief Executive of Siemens UK, is carrying out a government-backed review of industrial digitisation alongside 200 British companies. He has predicted that by leading, innovating and adopting digital, Britain could achieve productivity gains of up to 25% and manufacturing sector growth of up to 3% – all delivering annual growth of approximately 0.5% of gross domestic product (GDP).
But in order to seize this opportunity we need a smart state – not a big Government ‘picking winners’ with poorly targeted investment.
Policymakers must create the conditions for innovation to thrive with investment and political backing — setting the direction of travel — but not dictating the detail. Ultimately, businesses and sectors have a responsibility to organise themselves for success too.
Our bold modern Industrial Strategy sets out a vision of how government can take advantage of new technology, and nurture a flourishing manufacturing industry without making the same interventionist mistakes of the past.
In Parliament, a new generation of cross-party MPs are also ready to take this agenda forward, ensuring we capitalise on the opportunities presented by the Fourth Industrial Revolution – especially as we enter a post- Brexit trading environment which can herald a new era of British manufacturing and exporting.
The UK is becoming a global leader in everything from battery technology and autonomous vehicles to artificial intelligence and precision engineering. We learned the lessons of the 1970s, and through a smart state backing new industries and nurturing innovation we can become masters of the Fourth Industrial Revolution driven by a national manufacturing renaissance.