Following on from her ‘hard Brexit’ announcement last week, UK Prime Minister Theresa May today launched an Industrial Strategy consultation paper to secure the country a future as a competitive, global nation.

Announced at her first regional Cabinet meeting, the Government’s proposals recognise that while some parts of the country are thriving, opportunities and growth are spread unevenly across the country. The proposed measures are intended to deliver a high-skilled, competitive economy that benefits people throughout the UK. The ten ‘pillars’ on which the strategy rests therefore include: investment in science, research and innovation; development of a skilled technical workforce; improved infrastructure; support of starter businesses; improved procurement; better encouragement of trade and inward investment; and cultivation of global excellence.

Importantly for the energy sector, one of the pillars of the proposed strategy is to support affordable energy and ‘clean growth’ towards a low-carbon economy.

Industry reactions

Julie Hirigoyen, Chief Executive, UK Green Building Council commented: “The hotly-anticipated Industrial Strategy green paper shows some important foresight from Government. We welcome the regional approach, with a view to ‘backing local innovation strengths’, as well as the references to affordable energy and clean growth.

“The Strategy provides an opportunity to equip our cities as the engines of future economic growth, but to do this we must ensure that they have the flexibility from devolution deals to pursue a low carbon future. Attracting investment from businesses into key regions will depend on the availability of healthy and productive places for people to live, work and learn. Indeed, the built environment as a whole, including the integration of renewable energy infrastructure and resource efficient building practices, will be crucial to ensuring we ‘secure the economic benefits of the transition to a low-carbon economy’.

“Investing now in a low carbon future will create a more resilient economy, with its foundations in growth markets and opportunities to export our knowledge and expertise across the globe.”

Emma Pinchbeck, Executive Director at renewable energy trade body RenewableUK said: “The Prime Minster has taken a bold step by focussing specifically on innovative new industries where the UK is leading the world, and which are challenging the old order. That’s exactly what our wind, wave and tidal energy industries are doing by delivering affordable energy and clean growth – key pillars which Theresa May has set out in her bold vision for modern Britain.

She continued: “It’s exciting to see a focus on innovative solutions such as electric vehicles, which will need clean sources of energy to power them. Moves to increase the use of energy storage and battery technology - one of the most exciting fields which our member companies are pioneering - with the creation of a new research institute will also ensure renewables remain at the forefront of our power generation.

“Our offshore wind and marine energy industries are the envy of the rest of the world, so it’s crucial that the final Industrial Strategy provides a strong Sector Deal for our wind and marine technologies.”

Pinchbeck concluded: “With renewable energy now a mainstream power source, we need to maximise the benefits we all get from the investments that have been made in modernising the way we generate electricity. This means that onshore wind has a key role to play in our future energy mix, as it’s the cheapest form of new power for Britain.”

Policy experts at international environment and sustainability professional body IEMA welcomed the green paper’s proposed overhaul of technical education and skills, but warned the strategy must be one for the long term. Martin Baxter, Chief Policy Advisor at IEMA said: “It is vital that tomorrow’s workforce has the competence and capability to innovate and compete globally in high-value manufacturing and leading technology.”

He continued: “Government must use the Industrial Strategy as an opportunity to accelerate the UK’s transition to a low-carbon, resource efficient economy – one that is flexible and agile and which gives a progressive outlook for the UK’s future outside the EU. There is a real opportunity with the Industrial Strategy, and forthcoming 25-year Environment and Carbon Emissions Reduction plans, to set long-term economic and environmental outcomes which set the conditions to unlock investment, enhance natural capital and provide employment and export opportunities for UK business.”

Environmental activists at Greenpeace hoped that the strategy would consider the environmental and economic cost of nuclear power in comparison with offshore wind. Greenpeace Head of Energy, Kate Blagojevic, said: "The government's Industrial Strategy is crucial for delivering a forward-looking, highly skilled and innovative 21st century British economy. Renewable technology and low carbon transport are the way forward – so it is great to see the government’s focus on electric vehicles and on skilling up our workforce. But, we need more support for new offshore wind, not more expensive and hazardous nuclear. The Hinkley project is widely recognised as the most expensive object on earth and other nuclear projects are just as unpopular and uncertain power.

"The world is changing fast and there’s a global race to dominate clean tech markets. If the UK is to win that race, the Industrial Strategy needs to support cutting edge, reliable and homegrown clean technologies. Backing innovation in offshore wind power, energy storage and electric vehicles, and driving a technically-skilled UK workforce to steer these industries, will attract investment into the UK, create new jobs and export opportunities, and make sure we have a healthy economy and environment."

Martin Walder, vice president of industry at energy management specialist Schneider Electric said: “With the Prime Minister revealing more and more of the Brexit roadmap, it’s reassuring to see that investment in UK industry is still high on the agenda. Taking advantage of smart manufacturing and the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) will fuel the progress of UK industry and ensure that we can compete on a global platform.

“It’s essential that British Industry is given every opportunity to be at the leading edge of global industrial innovation through fresh investment, in order to combat the risk of stagnation. An Internet of Things-enabled industrial environment will push the boundaries of technological innovation and empower manufacturers to energise their workspaces – from the use of augmented reality in plant maintenance, and the rollout of smart sensing technology, to predictive maintenance, Virtual Reality tools and processes, and the integration of robotics on the factory floor.

“It’s never been more important for the UK to deliver the best products at competitive prices. In order to do this, we need the Government to drive capital investment in new manufacturing plant technology and equipment, such as robotics, automation and artificial intelligence. Research and innovation in these areas will have a direct impact on how new technology is rolled out, bringing with it the potential for significant gains in profitability, and the better management of safety, performance and environmental impact.”