In November, the government unveiled its long-awaited Industrial Strategy aimed at boosting the country’s productivity and earning power. The 255-page white paper is a post-austerity strategy pitched at the nation with an intent to ensure economic development permeates all regions in the UK.
The strategy focuses on four ‘grand challenges’ for the UK – artificial intelligence and data, clean growth, the future of mobility, and meeting the needs of an ageing society – and maintains the will to have a highly skilled workforce in the UK with better, higher paid jobs across sectors including automotive, construction and the life sciences.
Artificial intelligence and data exploitation, also known as ‘The Fourth Industrial Revolution’, is the fourth wave of industrialisation following the Victorian age of steam powered mechanisms, the mass production developed in the early part of this century, and the computer based automation that appeared in the post-war era.
The strategy aims to support UK businesses to maximise the exciting opportunities that artificial intelligence and big data present, and ensure we are equipping the next generation workforce with the skills required to fill the jobs they will inevitably create.
In a recent study by consultancy firm Mckinsey & Company, it was reported digital technologies, including AI, created 80,000 new jobs annually across a population similar to the UK , and in a study carried out by PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) it was estimated that AI could add £232bn to the UK economy by 2030 .
One opportunity for progress in this area that has gained widespread media attention is driverless cars. There is an intention to mimic and surpass human sensory and intelligence performance with this technology. The strategy could offer the support needed to overcome the key limitations in the intelligence of the vision systems required to detect and differentiate objects in real time with greater accuracy than a human.
The data economy is also well embedded in peoples’ psyche now following the scandal surrounding Facebook and the data manipulation in the run-up to the US election. Data and processing algorithms could be as valuable as oil in global markets or the engines that drove the last industrial age.
With regards to clean growth, the UK needs to grow its economy, increase its onshore energy production, and increase exports, all while continuing to drive down emissions in our cities and regions.
2040 is now becoming widely discussed as D-Day for diesel and there is an enormous amount of work needed to find better sources of energy for our transportation sector and core industries. Our future energy mix needs to incorporate more renewable energy and at the same time support the growth of electrification across all transport sectors.
The future economy will need to improve the mobility of people and goods. HS2 and improvements across the rail sector will provide a vital component in ensuring people have greater access to areas of work where the earning power is increasing.
The final grand challenge relates to the UK’s ageing population. Life expectancy is increasing and technology will play a key role in ensuring the quality of life is improved in old age through care technologies, innovative housing models and new finance products to meet the changing demands of retirement.
There is an Exchequer view on this, of course. People will need to work longer to maintain lifestyle choices and indeed a healthier workforce may choose to work longer because of the empowerment work can bring and the sense of community. With health spending set to rise from 6.9% of GDP to 12.6% in the next 50 years , the Exchequer needs to find an additional £88 billion in this period just to stand still. Of course there are non-demographic pressures, but the will for extending life-expectancy carries a significant cost.
Universities have the potential to play a key civic role in delivering the strategy’s objectives and overcoming the challenges it has identified by bringing together researchers, graduates, business and government. This role has clearly been recognised given the level of funding and support that has been allocated – including an increase in research funding to 2.4% of GDP by 2027.
As part of the government’s £4.7 billion increase in research and development over the next four years, the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund will provide £725 million towards research collaborations with business. A further £300 million has been pledged to Knowledge Transfer Partnerships and PhD programmes aligned to the Grand Challenges.
In addition, the Strategic Priorities Fund will deliver parts of the Industrial Strategy that would be otherwise missed by the existing funding priorities of UK Research and Innovation (UKRI). This will focus on multidisciplinary and inter-disciplinary research programmes, as identified by academics and industry.
This is all great news for Derby. The city and county could really benefit from the Industrial Strategy by universities, Local Enterprise Partnerships and local businesses coming together and addressing the needs of the region to boost earning power and quality of life.
On one hand, Derby has one of the most highly skilled workforces in the UK and a strong industry and heritage in transport innovation and manufacturing to build on, yet on the flip side it faces significant challenges to improve performance in school STEM subjects.
Derby is part of the Midlands Engine, which has key themes in advanced manufacturing, digital technologies and systems integration. The Industrial Strategy’s £115 million Strength in Places Fund could be instrumental in helping the region to build strength in science and innovation, particularly where there is a strong link between industry and universities.
There is also significant investment in STEM, including an additional £406 million for mathematics teaching and better support for programming in school, which will ultimately benefit future industry through upskilling the workforce.
The education sector as a whole can support businesses in achieving the goals set out in the Industrial Strategy, and the University of Derby is already working hard to support local industry address the challenges and opportunities in the city. Through Knowledge Transfer Partnerships, funding, expertise and technology, the University’s Institute for Innovation in Sustainable Engineering (IISE) is collaborating with industrial partners, supported by Rolls-Royce, Toyota and Bombardier, to unlock innovation potential and solve some of the challenges that the region’s SMEs are facing.
 Mckinsey (2017), ‘Shaping the future of work in Europe’s 9 digital front-runner countries’ www.mckinsey.com.
 PwC (2017), ‘Sizing the prize, PwC’s Global Artificial Intelligence Study: Exploiting the AI Revolution’, www.pwc.com.
 Fiscal sustainability report – January 2017, www.obr.uk