Monday, May 17, 2021

UK business leaders condemn ‘sad and bad’ axing of industrial strategy panel | Industrial policy

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Business leaders have criticised Kwasi Kwarteng, the business secretary, for shutting down the Industrial Strategy Council, the government’s in-house thinktank plotting the regeneration of Britain’s hard-pressed regions.

The decision to disband the council, which was led by the Bank of England’s chief economist, Andy Haldane, was called a “sad and bad” decision by Matthew Taylor, the chief executive of the Royal Society for Arts, Manufactures and Commerce.

Make UK, the manufacturers’ organisation, called it “frustrating” and “harsh” and said it was “critical that we do not simply leave a void”.

Kwarteng, who took over from Alok Sharma in January as the secretary of state for business, energy and industrial strategy (BEIS), notified the 16 members of the council that their services were no longer required in a letter after Wednesday’s budget announcement.

He said the government had “decided to mark a departure from the industrial strategy brand”, indicating that the ministry he runs could be given a makeover and name change in the coming weeks.

The BEIS, which has lost oversight of the budget for skills training to the education department, is expected to lose the industrial strategy brief to the Treasury.

The council, which was launched in November 2018 by the then business secretary, Greg Clark, counts some well-known business figures among its members, including Archie Norman, the Marks & Spencer chairman, Sir Charlie Mayfield, the former chair of the John Lewis Partnership, and the homewares entrepreneur Emma Bridgewater.

In a letter to the council’s members, Kwarteng said this week’s publication of the government’s new “plan for growth” had prompted him to terminate the council from next month.

The chief executive of Make UK, Stephen Phipson, criticised the decision, saying there was “a real and genuine fear that the critical part we have to play in the economic recovery, the realisation of global Britain and the achievement of vital climate change goals is no longer important”.

Mick Whitley, the MP for Birkenhead, called for a U-turn. “A comprehensive industrial strategy has a vital role to play in meeting the great challenges of the unemployment and climate crises, and building back better,” he said.

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Taylor, who was the government’s employment tsar until earlier this year when his term ended, said the budget had revealed that the Treasury was more interested in offering businesses tax incentives to give a quick boost to the economy.

“In typically reductive style, the Treasury clearly thinks waving big tax incentives is more powerful and much quicker than the long-term, multifaceted approach demanded by a proper strategy,” he tweeted.

“It is a sad and bad decision. Once again it appears we think we are too clever to have anything to learn from other – more successful economies. Industrial strategy will come back again, just as surely as our core economic weaknesses will continue to haunt us.”

Separately, an all-party committee of MPs has criticised the government for having “no plan” for cutting the UK’s carbon emissions to net zero, almost two years after the target was made into law.

A report from the parliamentary public accounts committee said there was no coordinated plan with clear milestones to achieve the legally binding goal to cut out emissions by 2050.

MPs also said the government was not properly engaging with the public on the behaviour changes – such as eating less meat or replacing boilers or cars with cleaner alternatives – that are needed to achieve the net zero goal.

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