At the CBI's annual conference in Birmingham last November, president of the board of trade Margaret Beckett announced that the DTI is to set up a future unit. The unit aims to create a forward-looking strategic focus for the DTI's work and will draw on the three pillars of the DTI's new approach to competitive success: looking to the future; strong markets and modern companies.
'We agree in principle with the DTI setting up a future unit because it will give the UK a macro business strategy,' says CBI spokesman Tim Hollingsworth. But what do British companies think of the idea? Do they need help to plan ahead or do they already have their own future units?
'It is always worth reminding ourselves that we must raise our eyes above and beyond the horizon,' says Chris Major, spokesman for Zeneca. But the unit is of little use to Zeneca which already invests 20% of its turnover in research and development, training and capital investment as a means to meet future market needs.
A DTI future unit would also be irrelevant for IT software and service provider ASI, which is in a market in which you cannot afford to look too far ahead. As ASI sales director Chris Brown explains: 'We have our own long-term strategic planning but only up to three years. In the IT business, it is very hard to look beyond three years because there are technological breakthroughs happening all the time.'
Richard Woods, a spokesman for UUNet, highlights his concern: 'It is all very well for the DTI to have these concepts but the problem is how does it deliver them? A future unit is about managing change, which SMEs find difficult because they haven't the in-house skills.'
But Will Whitehorn, director of Virgin Group, believes that the DTI initiative may be valuable for certain organisations: 'This initiative could be very useful to the medium-sized companies which don't have as many resources as big companies to plan ahead but are the power-houses of the economy.'.