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Industrial Strategy

Part of Laser Misuse (Vehicles) Bill [Lords] (Programme) – in the House of Commons at 5:32 pm on 18th April 2018.

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Photo of James Heappey James Heappey Conservative, Wells 5:32 pm, 18th April 2018

It is good that we have an industrial strategy. It is not the command economy of past industrial strategies but an opportunity to put together a coherent plan to develop and support the industries that will underpin this country’s economy in the future, boost productivity and raise the skills needed.

In that sense, we should be very excited about what the Government have done. The four grand challenges within the strategy—artificial intelligence, clean growth, dealing with an ageing society and the concept of future mobility—are essential ingredients of that future economy, but of course each does not stand alone; all entwine with one another to deliver something that is quite exciting, not just from an industrial and economic perspective, but from a social perspective and in terms of how our communities and the future economy will operate.

Within that are the sector deals. It is right that the Government are seeking to reinforce the success of current industries that have done well for the UK, such as defence and aerospace and nuclear, and looking to use these sector deals to incubate our future economy too. To be clear, in putting together this industrial strategy, focusing on the areas as it does and in looking over the horizon—while not, I suspect, trying to pick winners but trying to understand what is likely to be the bedrock of a future economy—the Government must use the industrial strategy and everything around it to facilitate disruption as much as they can. I say that because, again and again, we see that the new businesses that really change the way we live, drive down costs for consumers and drive up customer service are the ones that have come in and disrupted old and lazy industries. These industries, often underpinned by exciting advances in automation, artificial intelligence and tech, are exactly the things we have the opportunity, through good policy making in the next few years, to unleash to the benefit of UK consumers.

If I may make a political point, such an approach is in stark contrast to the rather retrograde measures proposed by the Opposition, such as a return to nationalisation, as well as their outright fear of automation, suspicion of artificial intelligence and desire to regulate almost to the point of obsolescence the gig economy that underpins so many of the businesses particularly popular with the millennial age group. It is right that Conservative Members should champion this approach.

The way in which we will really unlock all those things is by recognising that the internet of things is a very exciting proposition for our nation’s economy. It will create smart homes, smart businesses and smart communities as the vehicles through which all disruptive businesses will undoubtedly succeed. There is a catch, because we need to lead on regulating for the data challenges that come with an internet-of-things economy, with data points all over the place bringing huge amounts of very personal data into the possession of private companies. From there, self-learning AI algorithms will be able to discern things about the way in which we live our lives that are really very intimate, and we need to protect consumers from that. However, that should not stop us being hugely excited about the opportunity for this future economy, and we should use the industrial strategy to let it off its leash.

Our colleagues in the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy should really look at the fact that the very many different funds they have brilliantly brought forward to address so many of the challenges for our future economy are all stand-alone ones. My final point is that I would very much like us to start to designate test towns in which we could trial such things at scale. When we are looking at the future of mobility, we will learn most only when we have, at scale, automated on-demand transport. When we are looking at how to support an ageing society, we will be able to do so only if we can see, at scale, how CivTech will actually support people in old age to live in their own homes for longer, with the savings that that will deliver to local health services. On clean growth, it is only when we can see, at scale, the advantages of a digitised, decentralised energy system—with storage, interconnected electric vehicles and demand-side response—that we will really understand such opportunities. I therefore hope that the Minister will look at the opportunity for test towns.