Let's recreate the economy that put a man on the moon

Science and business belong together. 

NS

Sign Up

Get the New Statesman's Morning Call email.

In this era of increasing uncertainty, business craves stability. As a chartered engineer, I spent 20 years in business working on digital infrastructure all across the world which would support companies looking to the future. 

I saw up close and quite personal how different governments, intentionally or not, erected barriers to growth, or failed to deal with existing ones. 

Then, working for Ofcom, I saw how the last Labour government set out an ambitious vision for the future of digital in the 2003 Communications Act.  We are now the leading digital economy in Europe.

I’ve seen first-hand how businesses need clarity and stability in the world ahead of them. To provide for this, Labour has set out four crucial standards. The government is currently failing to meet each of them, and so cannot claim with any honesty they have a forward-looking industrial strategy. 

First. the government must make Britain one of the most dynamic, competitive and productive economies in the world. We must be able to weather the challenges of expensive imports from a fall in sterling, be able to provide the skilled workforce for our innovative businesses and leapfrog other European nations in the quantity and quality of what we produce. 

Second, our industrial strategy must take our whole country with it. Shifting our economy’s centre of gravity away from London is a necessity. However, it is not enough, as the Tories are doing, to add to a city-bias in the South-East, and a city-bias in the North. Our small towns cannot be left behind.

Third, it must be people-centred, providing good jobs and improving working conditions for people across the country.

Fourth, a successful industrial strategy will depend on – and create – a healthy business culture. One where entrepreneurs, leaders and hard-working employees are all rewarded.

To do this, Labour is dedicating itself to an industrial strategy oriented towards solving the greatest challenges facing our country. It is certainly ambitious. Last week, outlining Labour's offer to business, Clive Lewis set out our first mission – tackling climate change through making 60 per cent of our energy from low-carbon or renewable sources. But this is one of many missions. 

Our industrial strategy means we will direct business to resolving concerns around an aging population, of regional inequality and a younger generation who may never be able to own a house. 

This means dedicating our best and brightest to these challenges. This is like America’s economy in the 1960s, where all parts of their economy – from aeronautics to textiles - came together to put a man on the moon. We can do the same for the quests of the 21st century. 

Our digital future is crucial for this. We can meet the needs of an ageing population with digital products that can monitor health and welfare better than any carer. We can tackle climate change with smart grids which are some of the most efficient. We can automate dangerous or harmful work with robots which are more productive than any human in the role. 

Beyond this, a rising digital sector can provide more jobs – ones that restore left behind regions, giving back a sense of purpose to areas left behind. It can include generations who feel excluded by our rapidly changing world. And it can support business to building the most modern economy in the world.

For this, innovation strategy must be a core part of our industrial strategy. It is the way our economy will grow. The only alternative is a race to the bottom, with growth coming from consumer credit and personal debt.

Labour will make Britain the greatest entrepreneurs in the world by providing the right research funding, more investment in new products and a highly skilled workforce for the future. By putting industrial strategy, science and innovation together in the same shadow minister (that’s me), Labour plans to harness innovation for the purpose of directing smart, sustainable growth.

Our approach can steady our economy for the upcoming changes from Brexit. We cannot continue on a company-by-company approach, as with Nissan, with one deal being reached every six months.

Our plan will combat short-termism, and provide the long-term patient investment that will keep Britain’s economy healthy outside of the EU. We will be looking to nuture our competitive domestic industries – like digital, advanced manufacturing and the service sector – through seed funding, research and skills planning.

Together we can dedicate our resources to forging a new social contract that can bridge the divide between the haves and have nots while stimulating a new partnership between government and business that will tackle the key challenges of our age.

 

Chi Onwurah is the Labour MP for Newcastle upon Tyne Central, and the shadow minister for industrial strategy.