Blog of the month: Former business secretary Vince Cable
comments on the industrial challenges facing Theresa May’s government.
Credit: The Engineer
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It is greatly reassuring that Mrs May’s government has
rediscovered Industrial Strategy. But there is little sign, yet, that it
understands the engineering underpinnings required for a strong manufacturing
sector and communications infrastructure. And at a time when it is crucial to
tackle the long-term underlying fundamentals of the economy, the government
will now spend several years immersed in the details of Brexit negotiation.
Government must understand the underpinnings of a successful
manufacturing sector. The longstanding failure of government and the
educational establishment to understand the importance of engineering has left
the country with major gaps in the chain of skills. All the evidence we have is
that there are potentially very large gaps between supply and demand at most
The use of European talent to plug the gaps in recruitment
will now become more difficult given the overriding preoccupation of the Prime
Minister with reducing immigration numbers. At the graduate level, many of our
engineering schools are being kept afloat by overseas students
. Yet the Home
Office obsession with curbing net immigration numbers has meant that there is
little encouragement and much discouragement for overseas students to stay
behind after graduation and progress into British industry.
Brexit threatens to make this problem worse since the use of
European talent to plug the gaps in recruitment will now become more difficult
given the overriding preoccupation of the Prime Minister with reducing
immigration numbers regardless of the economic cost.
It is, of course,
desirable to produce home-grown talent but that requires years if not decades
of preparation. The level of maths performance in British schools remains very
poor as has been painfully demonstrated in the annual OECD Pisa rankings which
has the UK at 27th, a decline of one place since last year and way behind
Germany and Japan and most members of the EU.