Lord Heseltine: An industrial strategy is 'urgent and unavoidable'

The former Conservative Deputy Prime Minister and chairman of Haymarket Group has set out his thoughts on why Britain must have an industrial strategy and what it should embrace.

by Michael Heseltine
Last Updated: 07 Dec 2017
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Down to business

When I was responsible for the publication of the government’s Competitiveness White Paper in the early 1990s, a respected financial journalist asked me to list the three punchlines I would like him to use. I refused because that completely missed the point.

An industrial strategy is not about legislative change, a new subsidy or a headline-grabbing initiative.

It is about changing attitudes, involving people, raising standards.

It is about spreading the excellence so conspicuous in much of our economy into places where performance is very different.

It is at least as much about persuading companies that don’t export as it is about persuading those that do to ship more.

It is about breaking the ever too present assumption that concentrating decision making in Whitehall can ever be so effective as trusting and sharing power with our citizens who are the heartbeat in our economic centres across the United Kingdom.

It is about lauding the quality of our great universities, outstanding comprehensive and grammar schools while adopting a policy of zero tolerance to schools that are failing a generation of young people.

An industrial strategy recognises that as employers, employees, purchasers, consumers, savers and spenders, politicians and councillors, officials and volunteers, we are all in this together with a part to play and a future to win.

The implications of Britain’s departure from Europe have one certain consequence: we have an urgent and unavoidable need to analyse and understand our competitive strengths and how we can exploit them in the realities of the world marketplace.

The debate about the desirability of an industrial strategy is as controversial as the Brexit decision itself. It shouldn’t be. The government’s forthright commitment to an industrial strategy is long overdue and particularly relevant now.

As someone once said, we need to intervene to help Britain’s companies win before lunch, before tea, before dinner and then get up and intervene before breakfast all over again. We had better get up early because our competitors will have been up before dawn.

INDUSTRIAL STRATEGY – A RESPONSE TO THE GOVERNMENT’S GREEN PAPER is available to buy here.

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