After last week’s budget, we now get the government’s equally uninspiring ‘industrial strategy’. Based on proposals published in January of this year, the 250 page Building a Britain fit for the future claims to provide ‘a new approach to how government and business can work together’.
Nothing could be further from the truth. It’s more about the continued endorsement of free market economics and the success of ‘flexible’ labour – the reason why industrial strategies were no longer considered necessary. This is combined with a few proposals to bump up investment in ‘cutting edge’ industries which already do relatively well, in areas already prosperous – for example, the Oxford/Cambridge/Milton Keynes triangle.
While paying lip service to the importance of a few Northern ‘core cities’, the White Paper ignores most of the areas that are in terminal decline, because of historical neglect and lack of investment. It offers little to the millions of people in insecure and poorly paid employment at the lower end of the service sector.
In promising a ‘world class’ technical education, the White Paper is reaffirming existing commitments to introducing Tech-level qualifications as alternatives to A-levels – but these are as unlikely to be anymore successful than previous similar initiatives because they are not linked to an employment plan for young people.
May’s proposals are far removed from the approach of the economies they hopes to emulate – Germany and some of the Pacific Rim countries which have pursued much higher levels of state intervention and spent far greater sums of money (and in the case of Germany, enjoy much greater degrees of collaboration between state, employers and trade unions).
Labour’s alternative proposals for a National Investment Bank, increased borrowing for investment in manufacturing and nationalising parts of the infrastructure are much better, yet rather than pretending that after years of decline, industry can be restored; and then trying to copy the uncopiable, surely time could be better spent developing a POST-INDUSTRIAL strategy with at least some of the following objectives?
1)A much larger role for the state in running the economy – combined with decentralised regional strategies, accountable to local people. A planned introduction of automation.
2)Ditching fiscal orthodoxy – introducing the ‘People’s Quantitative Easing’, originally promoted by Labour, where new money is directed to socially useful projects rather than into the banking system.
3)Massive public expenditure on housing, social care and energy conservation.
4)Education for self-development and social responsibility, rather than just ‘skills’.
5)Ending dependency on low-paid service sector employment. Bringing in a Universal Basic Income in addition to existing benefits, not instead of them.