News | Published March 03 2019

Industrial strategy one year on

December marked the one-year anniversary of the government’s industrial strategy and the “sector deals” that went with it.

This saw a sector deal for different areas of British industry, tied into one or more of the “four grand challenges” facing society. These are AI and the analysis of big data, clean growth, future of mobility and the ageing society.

In December the Press Association reported that the UK was going to invest millions into micro-robotics systems capable of working in dangerous areas.

The aim is for small robots to end the need for expensive and maddening roadworks by carrying out repairs without digging up the highway, which is thought to cost the economy more than £5 billion a year.

It is hoped flying and underwater variants of the technology will be able to inspect and maintain offshore wind farms, gas, oil pipes and other difficult-to-reach facilities.

The science minister, Chris Skidmore, announced the investment of £26.6 million in 15 projects. The programme is being led by the University of Sheffield’s Professor Kirill Horoshenkov and will also involve scientists from Bristol, Leeds and Birmingham universities.

Mr Skidmore said: “While for now we can only dream of a world without roadworks disrupting our lives, these pipe-repairing robots herald the start of technology that could make that dream a reality in the future.”

On the clean growth front, January 2019 saw the announcement of measures that could see households and small businesses guaranteed payment for any excess energy they give back to the National Grid from renewable sources.

Solar panels are 80 per cent more efficient than they were in 2008, and the government said the new proposals would protect people selling excess power back from some of the costs they currently face.

The energy and clean growth minister, Claire Perry, said: “This new scheme could help us to build a bridge to the smart energy system of the future, with consumers firmly at its heart – not only buying electricity but being guaranteed payments for excess electricity they can supply to the grid.”

In October the Bank of England’s chief economist was appointed to chair the Industrial Strategy Council, which will oversee the programme going forward.

Andy Haldane said of his appointment: “The industrial strategy is one of the most critical strands of work taking place across government and has the potential to raise living standards across the whole of the UK, boost people’s earning powers and put the UK at the forefront of future industries internationally.”

In December, the business secretary, Greg Clark, gave a speech in Bristol on the first anniversary of the industrial strategy, citing some of its achievements and plans.

He said of the healthy ageing grand challenge: “The astonishing breakthroughs that are taking place are making us all live longer than ever we thought possible. In the industrial strategy, we noted in the UK today there are 15,000 people who’ve reached their 100th birthday. But in the current UK population, 10 million of us can expect to reach their 100th birthday. UK scientific and commercial know-how is absolutely pivotal to taking the opportunities not only domestically, but also all around the world.

“Bristol has an important contribution to make to that. Appropriately enough in the city of Wallace & Gromit, ‘The Right Trousers’ project, which is developing new soft robotic technologies to help older people and those with disabilities be able to live more independently.

“It performs tasks at home that previously proved more difficult as age and infirmity have hampered independent living.”

He also cited the work of the Turing Institute, which had just given fellowships to 30 Bristol academics in that field.

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The Parliamentary Review

March 03 2019

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