Industrial Strategy plans to boost skills

Published:  24 January, 2017

The construction industry has welcomed the government's new Industrial Strategy proposals, praising its support for business and its plans to boost skills.

Intended to help boost the UK's economy post-Brexit, the Strategy has outlined a 10-point plan which, the government says, will upgrade UK infrastructure, encourage trade and investment, and boost skills, as well as helping to deliver affordable, clean energy.

The 10 strategic pillars of the strategy are:

  • Investing in science, research and innovation.
  • Developing skills (in particular science, technology, engineering and maths), as well as building a new system of technical education to benefit those who do not go to university
  • Upgrading infrastructure for the digital, energy, transport, water and flood defence sectors
  • Supporting business to start and grow by improving access to finance and management skills
  • Improving government procurement to help develop the UK supply chain
  • Encouraging trade and inward investment
  • Delivering affordable energy and clean growth to secure the economic benefits of a low-carbon economy
  • Cultivating world-leading sectors
  • Driving growth across the whole country
  • Creating the right institutions to bring together sectors and places.

As part of these plans, Prime Minister Theresa May has announced a further £56m investment in the Northern Powerhouse, including a new innovation fund for businesses in Manchester and Chester.

A designated free school for 11-to-18 year-olds will also be established in every city, to act as a specialist centre of learning for maths, in an attempt to remedy the shortage of graduates in that subject.

Julia Evans, BSRIA chief executive, said the government's plans were positive, especially the aims to boost STEM skills, digital skills and numeracy.

On the plans for a £170m fund to create a new string of Institutes of Technology in England and Wales, described as 'builders' universities' for students aged 16-to-19, she said: "The UK has some of the best universities in the world but students and the 'workforce of tomorrow' have had fewer alternatives to learn practical skills. Clearly, engineering, technical and hands-on skills are crucial for our industry to address the ever increasing skills shortage. And build the houses the country needs."

The Chartered Institute of Plumbing & Heating Engineering (CIPHE) also welcomed the plans, noting that the UK's decision to leave the EU would mean the lifting of state aid rules that would allow the government to take a more active role in supporting industry and backing businesses.

Kevin Wellman, chief executive officer of CIPHE, said: "The government is right to be worried about the impact of skills shortages, especially in the construction and manufacturing sectors. The issues we have been confronting for decades will come to a head with the UK's withdrawal from the single market.

"We encourage all measures in strengthening education in the construction sector and developing greener more sustainable technologies. We would welcome greater recognition of the competency of individuals in the plumbing and heating sector who are indeed 'proud to be professional' and provide essential support for British industry."

To take advantage of these plans, Richard Threlfall, head of infrastructure, building and construction at KPMG UK, said the construction industry now needed to come together with a single voice and strong leadership.

"The openness of the government's invitation to support sectors which can unite under strong leadership is to be applauded, but will present a challenge to the construction industry whose voice in government is fragmented. Substantial infrastructure investment is critical if the UK is to remain competitive in a post-Brexit future. The industry will be keen to know quickly the identity of the major new infrastructure proposed; and will be disappointed if it transpires that these are ones which have previously been announced."

The consultation also outlined plans to move the UK's energy grid towards affordable and cost-effective decarbonisation, with energy storage solutions listed as a priority.

Paul Barwell, STA chief executive, said: "The strong political support for storage in this strategy is warmly welcome. Many of our members stand ready today to deliver intelligent storage solutions across the power system. We look forward to working with government to unlock storage markets in the UK as quickly as possible."

He warned, however, that government's recent removal of support for the cheapest forms of renewable energy were at odds with this strategy, and that a coming business rates rise for some solar systems may put off commercial sector investors.

A consultation has now been launched regarding the Strategy, with government calling on businesses of every size and from every industry to take part. More information on the plans can be found online here: https://www.gov.uk/government/consultations/building-our-industrial-strategy.