Hewitt sets out five-year industrial policy

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The Independent Online

The government yesterday unveiled plans to make it easier for high-skilled immigrant workers to seek employment in the UK.

The government yesterday unveiled plans to make it easier for high-skilled immigrant workers to seek employment in the UK.

Launching a five-year plan, the Department of Trade and Industry (DTi) said it was vital that businesses were not held back by an inability to find skilled staff.

It said that in conjunction with the Home Office it would target its migration programme towards attracting entrepreneurs and academics and would bolster its policy of recognising overseas credentials.

It said it would seek to retain foreign students who have obtained a doctorate in a "shortage subject" at a UK university.

"We're sending a strong signal to scientists around the world that the UK is the place to carry out research in leading edge areas - such as nanotechnology and stem-cell research," said Patricia Hewitt, the trade and industry secretary.

But she denied these policies would lead to a "brain drain" from poorer countries as the most qualified workers sought to settle in Britain.

"We're not looking to strip developing countries of their desperately needed skilled people," she said, pointing to its code on ethical NHS recruitment.

The plans were part of what the DTi called a "new industrial policy" that would put science, innovation and technology at its heart.

"The global economic map is being redrawn," Ms Hewitt said. "But Britain is extremely well placed to benefit from this transformation."

The plans include boosting research and development (R&D) spending from its current 1.9 per cent of national income to 2.5 per cent per year by 2014.

It will also reduce the regulatory burden on business arising from DTi requirements by more than £1bn over the next five years. It will limit the introduction of all new domestic regulations to two common dates per year and introduce this model across departments.

An "ideas portal" will be set up to allow inventors to submit unsolicited proposals to the public sector.

Finally, action will be taken to tackle animal rights extremism including new powers for the police, more stringent legislation and a potential new offence "to address the economic damage extremists can cause companies and their suppliers".

Business lobby groups gave the plan a mixed reception with the British Chambers of Commerce describing them as "big on promises but lacking in detail". It said there was no detailed plan for how the UK would overtake its rivals in R&D spending or on how the regulatory burden would be cut by £1bn.

David Frost, its director general, said: "The report lacks any real detail. We are waiting for the Government to show a commitment to businesses trying to compete in the global market."

But the CBI said the report "hit the right notes" for businesses, particularly the plans on red tape and science.

"This is an encouraging plan, which shows the DTi means business when it comes to championing business," said Digby Jones, its director general. "Those who want to talk the department down need to understand that companies value the functions it carried out."