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Industrial strategy examined with Osborne, Heseltine and Cable

11 October 2016

The Business, Innovation and Skills Committee question George Osborne, Lord Heseltine and Sir Vince Cable as part of its industrial strategy inquiry. The inquiry considers what the Government's industrial strategy should look like and explores potential barriers to its success.

Witnesses

Tuesday 11 October 2016, Committee room 6, Palace of Westminster

At 9.30am

  • Sir Vince Cable, former Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills

At 10.15am

  • George Osborne MP, former Chancellor of the Exchequer
  • Lord Heseltine, former Deputy Prime Minister and President of the Board of Trade

Purpose of session

The Committee is asking how interventionist the Government should be. It is looking at the industrial policies of previous UK administrations and of other countries to identify any lessons that can be learned that will benefit British businesses in the modern age.

Background

As Chancellor, George Osborne talked about "the march of the makers" and instigated the Northern Powerhouse and Midlands Engine projects. Sir Vince Cable championed an interventionist approach based upon sectors while serving as Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills in the Coalition Government. As President of the Board of Trade in the 1990s, Michael Heseltine stated that he would intervene "before breakfast, lunch, tea and dinner" to promote the interests of UK plc, and produced a report for the Coalition Government, No Stone Unturned, in 2012, which contained 89 recommendations to improve UK competitiveness and support industry.

Chair's comments

Iain Wright MP, Business, Innovation and Skills Committee Chair, said: 

"The Prime Minister has talked of a "proper industrial strategy". In her speech to the Conservative Party conference in Birmingham this week, she said such an industrial strategy is 'not about picking winners, propping up failing industries, or bringing old companies back from the dead' but 'about identifying the industries that are of strategic value to our economy and supporting and promoting them through policies on trade, tax, infrastructure, skills, training, and research and development.'

This rhetoric sounds commendable but similar words have been said before. What is different this time, can an industrial strategy work in 21st century Britain and how will it make a real difference to businesses?

A proper industrial strategy will require a long-term perspective that transcends parliaments and a co-ordination across Government. But how is this consistent with the short-term political cycle and a silo-based approach across Whitehall? In an era of national parliaments and increased devolution to the regions and local government, how can a national industrial strategy work?

George Osborne, Lord Heseltine and Sir Vince Cable have, in their different ways and for many, many years, all advocated and attempted to implement a strategic industrial policy. As a Committee we are keen to quiz them about the difficulties they faced and the lessons which Government can learn to ensure we create the conditions for a modern, innovative and competitive economy."

Further information

Image: iStockphoto

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