May launches industrial strategy talks to prepare for Brexit

UK Prime Minister Theresa May has launched talks about the UK’s new industrial strategy, which aims to help fulfil her promise to make the country work for everyone. 

The industrial strategy, the first since Margaret Thatcher scrapped the concept 30 years ago, will help prepare the UK for the post-Brexit world.

May met with the heads of 11 ministries during a kick-off meeting at 10 Downing Street on Tuesday. The meeting discussed how state assistance can help address the deep dissatisfaction revealed by the referendum vote, where mostly struggling post-industrial regions voted to leave in what has been described as a protest vote.

The industrial strategy will attempt to ward off the post-Brexit economic decline predicted by analysts. At the heart of the strategy will be the UK’s manufacturing sector, struggling for years to remain competitive in the globalised world.

During the meeting, the ministers discussed various approaches to support growth in different regions. In addition to helping existing industries and established players such as BAE Systems or Jaguar Land Rover, the strategy should also support new sectors and new companies that will shape the economy in future.

According to finance minister Philip Hammond, reducing the productivity gap between the rest of the country and London and the south-east could increase economic output by 9 per cent, adding over £150bn to the economy.

Closer cooperation between the state and certain industries such as car manufacturing and aerospace has already been implemented by the previous government with satisfying results, experts said. However, the approach now needs to be scaled up to have a more substantial effect on the economy.

"The very fact that the new Prime Minister is chairing this committee, I hope, addresses one of the weaknesses of the last two administrations ... that is the relative lack of joined-up thinking, a cross-governmental approach," said Terry Scuoler, head of the EEF manufacturing trade body. "If this committee chaired by the Prime Minister states something, it is going to be potent."

It is expected that the policy will combine backing for large traditional infrastructure projects such as roads and railways, as well as modern technology including broadband. It is also expected the strategy will attempt to reduce high-energy cost for manufacturers, a major obstacle to their profitability, and focus on addressing the existing skills gap by training more workers.

Unlike the 1960s industrial policies designed to help particular companies in their struggles, May’s strategy will attempt to create the right environment.

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