Civil servants urged to ‘understand and assist business’ in industrial strategy

Flagship government document identifies four "grand challenges" that UK must address to take advantage of global economic trends

Getting moving: business secretary Greg Clark confirmed target for quarter of cars in central government fleet to be ultra-low emission by 2022. Photo: PA

By Richard Johnstone

27 Nov 2017

The government’s industrial strategy has called on government officials to “listen to, understand and assist” businesses as part of a plan to boost the economy and embrace technological change across society.

The document highlighted that a strong theme of almost 2,000 responses to the green paper consultation earlier this year was a call for businesses to “be able to deal with the government without having to navigate different approaches by different government departments”.

Today’s document said “every part of government should be encouraging and offering partnership”.


“Businesses should feel they have a positive relationship with officials and ministers who listen to, understand and assist them,” it stated. “We are determined to create in the government the most effective champion and partner of business in the developed world – an ambition which demands changes in organisation and practice.”

In the document, business secretary Greg Clark sets out plans for what is called a “new and unique partnership between government, academia and industry” to increase productivity across the country.

Clark set out what he called the four “grand challenges” that will shape the future of the UK economy. These are artificial intelligence, clean growth and energy, the ageing society, and transformation of mobility.

Each of these requires business, academia and civil society to work with government to seize global opportunities, he said.

“The way we earn and live our lives as workers, citizens and consumers is being transformed by new technologies. The UK is well-placed to benefit from this new industrial revolution and we start from a position of significant strength. We have a thriving research and science base and are home to a wide range of innovative sectors, from advanced manufacturing and life sciences, to fintech and creative industries.

“The industrial strategy is an unashamedly ambitious vision for the future of our country, laying out how we tackle our productivity challenge, earn our way in the future, and improve living standards across the country.”

Actions proposed in the strategy included increasing total research and development spending in the economy to 2.4% of gross domestic product by 2027, assisted by an increase of the rate of R&D tax credit to 12%. There was a pledge to invest £725m in industrial strategy challenge fund programmes, following on from the £1bn first wave of investment announced in the Spring Budget. It was also stated that the government will reach "sector deals" across the economy to provide specific assistance, with the first of these deals – in construction, artificial intelligence, automotive and life sciences sectors – confirmed today.

The strategy has also recommitted the government to the move arm’s-length bodies and departmental functions out of London in order to boost growth elsewhere, including in the civil service hubs programme being led by HMRC. It confirmed a target for a quarter of all cars in the central government department fleet to become ultra-low emission by 2022.

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