Image: “Follow Your Dreams/Cancelled”, Banksy/Chris Devers, Creative Commons License.

In the light of Brexit, can a new coalition of social class and territorial interests mobilise to deliver a meaningful industrial strategy?

This week, the government published its Industrial Strategy. It is a hefty document, weighing in at 255 pages, and clearly the product of many months of analytical and policy development work. Like most such papers, it is littered with the mini-reviews, micro initiatives and small spending pots that characterize cross-departmental policy documents. The prose is occasionally tortured by the Whitehall compromises it embodies. But it has a thematic coherence, drawn from a focus on tackling the UK’s productivity problem and proposals to orient economic activity strategically towards four “Grand Challenges” of an ageing society, the transition to a low carbon economy, mobility, and AI and the data economy. This focus on societal missions, some big increases in R & D spending, and the recognition that governments have a strategic role in shaping economic growth have pleased advocates for industrial strategy. It has been broadly welcomed.

The government’s white paper follows hard on the heels of two important contributions to industrial strategy policy, the first from the Commission on Industrial Strategy, established by the Universities of Manchester and Sheffield and chaired by Dame Kate Barker whose final report was published a few weeks ago, and the second, a discussion paperfrom the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) Commission on Economic Justice.

Each of these sets out, in different ways, the persistent weaknesses in the British economy that justify a strongly articulated, non-partisan and consistently delivered industrial strategy: poor productivity performance, low rates of business investment, regional imbalances, chronically weak export performance, and poor diffusion of skills, R&D and innovation. These are familiar and largely indisputable lists.

Barker’s Commission on Industrial Strategy refrains from describing these weaknesses as symptoms of a deeper neo-liberal malaise or characteristics of a fundamentally broken British economic model; it positioned its report to appeal to policymakers across the political spectrum and its analytical framework reflects that.

In contrast, the IPPR contribution is directly addressed to the construction of a new economic model. It believes that the UK’s economy is governed by a neo-liberal intellectual paradigm that has manifestly failed and is on its way out, in academia as much as the institutions of economic policymaking. It adduces the government’s new industrial strategy as further evidence of the paradigmatic transformation in economic thinking that is underway.

To read the rest of this article, please visit: Open Democracy


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