The Confederation of British Industry is calling on the Government to throw its weight behind a new industrial strategy, designed to prepare the UK for a new age of automation and leapfrog other countries rather than just catch up with them.
Unveiling the results of a major member survey on Monday, the CBI said that 82 per cent of more than 400 firms that it questioned said the Government’s future industrial strategy should focus on people, infrastructure and innovation.
More than half said that economic uncertainty was their biggest worry, and 39 per cent said that their primary concern was not knowing what post-Brexit trade will look like.
“We really are in the throes of the fourth industrial revolution,” said CBI director general Carolyn Fairbairn in an interview with The Independent.
“Firms are investing in technologies like robotics and automation. And there are huge opportunities for the UK. We’re leaders in areas like fintech and cyber security. But we need to address skill shortages desperately.”
A total of 89 per cent of companies questioned by the CBI said that they believe a modern industrial strategy could be a significant opportunity to improve living standards across the UK by 2030.
Ms Fairbairn said that this was because of the impact that such a strategy would have on productivity.
“The main driver of the living standard is productivity,” she said.
“What we know is that the UK is at the bottom of the G7 in terms of productivity. Variations across the UK are shockingly large.”.
She said that low productivity was one of the reasons for deep inequality across the UK and why wages had stagnated, even as the cost of living has risen sharply.
“The solution lies in investment,” she said.
The CBI said that the Government must “learn from historical missteps and build cross party consensus”. And it urged the Government to create an independent industrial strategy body, similar to the Office for Budget Responsibility, that could “measure, advise and build confidence”.
Ms Fairbairn said that such a body would hold successive governments to account and thereby have an emphasis on “long-termism” – a crucial requirement for getting strategy right at a time of such uncertainty.
The CBI also urged Westminster to set up a joint commission on artificial intelligence next year, with the aim of better understanding the impact on people’s lives, jobs and future economic growth.
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