The government has launched its promised industrial strategy by publishing a Green Paper which details the measures the government plans to take. This represents a move away from a laissez-faire approach to business and a move towards greater intervention.
There are 10 elements or ‘pillars’ of the policy. These include investing in science and technology, skills training and infrastructure – energy, transport, digital and water. They also include support to businesses, developing local institutions and encouraging trade and inward investment.
The drivers of the policy are planned to be a mixture of financial support, government procurement, new structures or organisations and laws and regulations. Details will be fleshed out in the coming months as the policy is enacted.
Reactions to the announcement have been mixed. An industrial policy is generally seen as an important element for improving the supply side of the economy by improving productivity and encouraging capacity growth. However, much of the criticism of the policy is that it does not go far enough. The following articles assess the policy – both its design and likely success.
Theresa May’s long-awaited “industrial strategy” looks a bit thin The Economist (28/1/17)
Factbox: The 10 pillars of Britain’s Modern Industrial Strategy Reuters, William James (23/1/17)
Theresa May give details of action plan for British industry BBC News (23/1/17)
Industry plan is break with ‘laissez-faire’ approach of the past Sky News, Ian King (23/1/17)
Skills and infrastructure top priority in industrial strategy, say UK firms The Guardian, Graham Ruddick (21/1/17)
The Guardian view on industrial strategy: hot air but no liftoff The Guardian (23/1/17)
The industrial strategy acknowledges a fundamental truth about growth New Statesman, Michael Jacobs (23/1/17)
European bosses underwhelmed by UK industrial revival plan Reuters, Ludwig Burger (27/1/17)
Is the UK finally getting serious about industrial strategy? Economia, David Bailey (25/1/17)
Government policy documents
Building our Industrial Strategy: Our 10 pillars HM Government (23/1/17)
Building our Industrial Strategy: Green Paper HM Government (23/1/17)
- Distinguish between interventionist and market-orientated supply-side policy. In terms of this distinction, how would you categorise the UK government’s industrial strategy?
- How will the strategy address the UK’s productivity puzzle?
- Go through each of the 10 pillars and assess how they will help to address weaknesses in the UK economy.
- How can government ‘missions’ to address major social challenges help to drive innovation? (See New Statesman article above.)
- How may Brexit help or hinder the government’s industrial strategy?
- The Economist article describes the strategy as looking thin. Do you agree?
Short-termism is a problem which has dogged British firms and is part of the explanation of low investment in the UK. Shareholders, many of which are large pension funds and other financial institutions, are more concerned with short-term returns than long-term growth and productivity. Likewise, senior managers’ rewards are often linked to short-term performance rather than the long-term health of the company.
But the stakeholders in companies extend well beyond owners and senior managers. Workers, consumers, suppliers, local residents and the country as a whole are all stakeholders in companies.
So is the current model of capitalism fit for purpose? According to the new May government, workers and consumers should be represented on the boards of major British companies. The Personnel Today article quotes Theresa May as saying:
‘The people who run big businesses are supposed to be accountable to outsiders, to non-executive directors, who are supposed to ask the difficult questions. In practice, they are drawn from the same, narrow social and professional circles as the executive team and – as we have seen time and time again – the scrutiny they provide is just not good enough.
We’re going to change that system – and we’re going to have not just consumers represented on company boards, but workers as well.’
This model is not new. Many countries, such as France and Germany, have had worker representatives on boards for many years. There the focus is often less on short-term profit maximisation and more on the long-term performance of the company in terms of a range of indicators.
Extending this model to stakeholder groups more generally could see companies taking broader social objectives into account. And the number of companies which put corporate social responsibility high on their agenda could increase significantly.
And this approach can ultimately bring better returns to shareholders. As the first The Conversation article below states:
This is something that research into a ‘Relational Company’ model has found – by putting the interests of all stakeholders at the heart of their decision making, companies can become more competitive, stable and successful. Ultimately, this will generate greater returns for shareholders.
While CSR has become mainstream in terms of the public face of some large corporations, it has tended to be one of the first things to be cut when economic growth weakens. The findings from Business in the Community’s 2016 Corporate Responsibility Index suggest that many firms are considering how corporate responsibility can positively affect profits. However, it remains the case that there are still many firms and consumers that care relatively little about the social or natural environment. Indeed, each year, fewer companies take part in the CR Index. In 2016 there were 43 firms; in 2015, 68 firms; in 2014, 97 firms; in 2013, 126 firms.
In addition to promising to give greater voice to stakeholder groups, Mrs May has also said that she intends to curb executive pay. Shareholders will be given binding powers to block executive remuneration packages. But whether shareholders are best placed to do this questionable. If shareholders’ interests are the short-term returns on their investment, then they may well approve of linking executive remuneration to short-term returns rather than on the long-term health of the company or its role in society more generally.
When leaders come to power, they often make promises that are never fulfilled. Time will tell whether the new government will make radical changes to capitalism in the UK or whether a move to greater stakeholder power will remain merely an aspiration.
Will Theresa May break from Thatcherism and transform business? The Conversation, Arad Reisberg (19/7/16)
Democratise companies to rein in excessive banker bonuses The Conversation, Prem Sikka (14/3/16)
Theresa May promises worker representatives on boards Personnel Today, Rob Moss (11/7/16)
If Theresa May is serious about inequality she’ll ditch Osbornomics The Guardian, Mariana Mazzucato and Michael Jacobs (19/7/16)
Theresa May should beware of imitating the German model Financial Times, Ursula Weidenfeld (12/7/16)
- To what extent is the pursuit of maximum short-term profits in the interests of (a) shareholders; (b) consumers; (c) workers; (d) suppliers; (e) society generally; (f) the environment?
- How could British industry be restructured so as to encourage a greater proportion of GDP being devoted to investment?
- How would greater flexibility in labour markets affect the perspectives on company performance of worker representatives on boards?
- How does worker representation in capitalism work in Germany? What are the advantages and disadvantages of this model? (See the panel in the Personnel Today article and the Financial Times article.)
- What do you understand by ‘industrial policy’? How can it be used to increase investment, productivity, growth and the pursuit of broader stakeholder interests?
For years, Britain has suffered a decline in its manufacturing base relative to many of its competitors. In part this was the result of the success of the financial sector and the accompanying high exchange rate. But, with the problems of the financial sector since 2007 and the subsequent recession, attention has increasingly turned to ways of stimulating manufacturing capacity and the competitiveness of the export sector generally.
In other words, attention has turned to the supply side of the economy.
But what should be the features of a successful supply-side policy? Should it encourage competition and focus largely on deregulation and removing ‘red tape’ to encourage market forces to operate more efficiently and effectively? Or should it be more interventionist?
The Business Secretary, Vince Cable, has been in the headlines for criticising his own government’s policy and arguing for a more active supply-side policy – one that is more interventionist. The following podcasts, the second of which is an interview with Dr Cable, look at the arguments for a more active supply-side policy and the forms it could take. The articles look at some of the arguments in more detail.
Industrial strategy ‘lacking in the UK’ BBC Today Programme, Mariana Mazzucato (6/3/12)
Government ‘getting behind’ industry BBC Today Programme, Vince Cable (6/3/12)
Cable urges long-term plan for industry Financial Times, George Parker (12/2/12)
Cable defends concern over lack of vision Financial Times, Elizabeth Rigby and George Parker (6/3/12)
Vince Cable leaked letter: in full The Telegraph (6/3/12)
Rusting Britain threatens recovery The Telegraph, Alexander Baldock (4/3/12)
Vince Cable is Right: we “lack a compelling vision of where the country is heading” Birmingham Post, David Bailey (6/3/12)
Rebuilding Britain’s economy: the hunt for an ‘industrial strategy’ Citywire Money, Chris Marshall (29/2/12)
Companies must stop hoarding cash and start investing instead Observer, Will Hutton (19/2/12)
Britain needs to shape an industrial strategy Observer, Editorial (4/3/12)
- Distinguish between the terms ‘industrial strategy’, ‘market-orientated supply-side policy’ and ‘interventionist supply-side policy’
- Identify some ways in which innovations and productivity growth can be supported by government.
- Does interventionist supply-side policy inevitably involve the government spending more?
- If the government wishes to encourage a more entrepreneurial country, should this involve a careful mix of intervention and market liberalisation and, if so, what should the mix look like?
- Summarise the arguments in Vince Cable’s letter to the Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister.
- What are the lessons of Silicon Valley for the UK and other European countries?
- How important is successful demand-side policy for a successful supply-side strategy?
- Comment on the following quote from the Will Hutton article above: “British companies are running a cash surplus of some 6% of GDP, again the largest in the world, but are refusing to spend that cash on investment or innovation, preferring to hoard it, preserve profit margins or buy back their own shares. Business investment as a share of GDP is thus the lowest among large industrialised countries.”
On the 24th May the new collation government released details of its plan to make £6.2 billion of savings (see HM Treasury press release). As part of this package, The Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) – headed by Business Secretary, Vince Cable – will make savings of £836 million, equivalent to 3.9% of its budget. One of the areas identified by BIS for ‘savings’ is the higher education budget, which will lose £200 million. Also targeted are the Regional Development Agencies (RDAs) in England. These are the strategic drivers of economic development in the English regions. They will lose £74 million from BIS as well as a further £196 million from other government departments.
So what is the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills charged with doing? Well, according to the BIS website it is charged with
…building a dynamic and competitive UK economy by: creating the conditions for business success; promoting innovation, enterprise and science; and giving everyone the skills and opportunities to succeed. To achieve this it will foster world-class universities and promote an open global economy.
In describing what BIS does, BIS states that it
…brings all of the levers of the economy together in one place. Our policy areas – from skills and higher education to innovation and science to business and trade – can all help to drive growth.
In other words, the BIS is intended to be a key player in affecting the UK’s long-term rate of economic growth. Since 1948 the average annual rate of growth of the UK economy, as measured by constant-price GDP (real GDP), is 2.4%. Of course, a key question is how we might do better. But, there is a significant disagreement amongst economists about the role that government should play in advancing long-term economic growth. This debate largely centres both on how activist a government should be and on the types of policy that a government should pursue.
The ’case for industrial activism’ is made in the leading article of The Independent on 25 May. It nicely encapsulates some of the policy issues surrounding long-term growth and, in reflecting on the cuts to BIS, identifies the role it believes BIS should play.
…we need to think clearly about the proper role for the state in the private sector. There is no future in a return to the heavy-handed statism of the 1970s or the discredited policy of trying to “pick winners”. The guiding principle as far as industrial policy is concerned is that government should do what the free market will not, or cannot. The function of the DBIS should be to increase Britain’s long-term growth potential.
This means supporting industries that cannot get funding from the capital markets and funding important research that would otherwise go unperformed. Most of all, it means education. Britain cannot compete successfully with the rising economic powers of China and India, which have access to a vast pool of cheap workers, on labour costs. Our only hope for advantage lies in our human capital. That makes the case for intensive vocational and advanced skills training.
Therefore, industrial activism, as envisaged by The Independent is about correcting for market failures and ensuring that there is sufficient investment in education and training.
The Confederation of British Industry, which describes itself as the ‘UK’s top business lobbying organisation’, in its press release of 19 May identified the following as ‘essential’ for delivering growth:
• Establishing competitive business taxes
• Developing a strong banking system
• Skilling students for the future and strengthening apprenticeships
• Attracting and cultivating enterprise and industry
• Prioritising energy security
• Working towards a low-carbon economy
• Developing the infrastructure for economic growth
The CBI too identifies the significance of skills. But, it believes that in the previous decade growth was driven too much by government spending (as well as by unsustainable growth in the financial sector). It argues that the private sector, along with trade, needs to be ‘the growth engine for the future’.
What is interesting about the proposed cuts to BIS is that they very visibly draw attention to the differences that exist among commentators, industrialists and economists as to industrial policy. In particular, they ignite the debate about the most effective role that a government can play in promoting long-term growth. Don’t expect too much agreement any time soon!
Government announces £6.2 billion of savings in 2010-11 HM Treasury (24/5/10)
Private sector growth and public sector reform needed to restore economy CBI (19/5/10)
The case for industrial activism Independent (25/5/10)
Public sector deficit cuts: Higher education and RDAs hit hard in BIS efficiency savings plan eGov Monitor (25/5/10)
George Osborne outlines details of £6.2 billion spending cuts BBC News (24/5/10)
Government axes £836 billion from business budget Growing Business (24/5/10)
Department for Business, Innovation and Skills hit hard by spending cuts Training Journal, Martin Kornacki (24/5/10)
Business department hammered as Osborne swings the axe Management Today (24/5/10)
Big cuts signal end to activism Financial Times, Jean Eaglesham, Andrew Bounds and Clive Cookson (24/5/10)
Businesses take a pounding as coalition cuts hit home London Evening Standard, Hugo Duncan (24/5/10)
Vince Cable explains spending cuts u-turn Newsnight (24/5/10)
- What do you understand by long-term growth? How does this differ from short-run growth?
- Evaluate the argument advanced by The Independent for industrial activism? What sort of policies might fall under this description?
- In considering the CBI’s list of influences on long-term economic growth outline what role you think government could play and what policies it could enact.
- Do you think the savings being made by BIS signal a new policy approach to delivering long-term economic growth in the UK?
There are seven Indian airlines: state-owned Air India and six private carriers. Since the onset of recession they have all been making losses and were considering a one-day ‘strike’ when services would be removed. The aim was to force the Indian government to reduce fuel and airport taxes.
Do the losses suggest that there is overcapacity in the Indian airline market? Does it matter if, during the current recession, some airlines go out of business? Are bankruptcies necessary if the surviving carriers are to be stimulated to make cost savings and are to achieve sufficient economies of scale? Or should governments offer support to struggling airlines? Is oligopoly the best market structure for such an industry and, if so, how can collusion be avoided? The following articles consider these questions.
How many airlines do we need? Business Line (The Hindu) (4/8/09)
Indian airlines call off Aug 18 strike Forbes (3/8/09)
When corporations capture the state Rediff Business (7/8/09) (see middle part of article)
Blaming everyone else Indian Express (3/8/09)
India’s air carriers spin loss riddle Asia Times Online (8/8/09)
A strategic vision for Indian aviation The Economic Times (8/8/09)
Flight to value The Economist (6/8/09)
Federation of Indian Airlines
- Describe the features of the market structure in which Indian airlines operate.
- Is the Federation of Indian Airlines a cartel?
- Should (a) any; (b) all Indian airlines be given government support, and, if so, what form should the support take? Should Air India be treated differently from the other Indian airlines? Explain your answer.
- Is it in Air India’s long-term interests to embark on a price war with the other Indian airlines?
- Is oligopoly necessarily the optimal market structure for a capital-intensive industry?