The knowledge-based economy: The making of a White Paper

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The Independent Online
May 1997: Margaret Beckett transfers back to the DTI the competitiveness team that had been at the Cabinet Office under Michael Heseltine. "We knew competitiveness had to be at the heart of our policy," says Dan Corry, Peter Mandelson's special adviser. "Without strong business and a strong economy, government cannot achieve what we want for the UK."

Autumn 1997 - spring 1998: Collected data shows productivity gains in manufacturing in the 1980s have not been sustained since 1994. Between 1977 and 1997, UK economic performance relative to its competitors has remained flat.

The DTI sets up outside working parties. Heads of FT-SE 100 companies like Stagecoach's Mike Kinski meet managers of foreign companies in the UK like Bruce Collings, of the US healthcare products group Johnson & Johnson.

July 1998: Peter Mandelson arrives at DTI. A theme for the Competitiveness White Paper emerges: "Competitiveness depends on knowledge, skills, and creativity." The DTI's chief economic adviser David Coates explains: "We expected the Investment Working Party might focus on finance as a constraint. In fact, they talked more about management and skills, and the importance of investment in intangibles, and of a shift in culture towards enterprise and growth."

August: Ministers assemble over 100 proposals for making the UK economy more competitive. But Lord Simon, the DTI's Minister for Trade and Competitiveness in Europe, is not satisfied. "We did not just want a wish list of hundreds of proposals. We wanted a new attitude and approach to policy-making that took account of the changes in the real world."

September: Full-day seminar of senior civil servants. Ideas from "productivity seminars" conducted by business and the Treasury are fed into the White Paper machine.

October: Mr Mandelson launches series of speeches on competitiveness. Arranges high-profile trip to Silicon Valley.

November: White Paper nearly finished. Drafts sent to Number 10 Policy Unit and businessmen.