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Commit to long-term industrial strategy, UK engineers urge next government

12 June 2024

Engineers are calling for an industrial strategy to create a skilled workforce and avoid continued low economic growth.

Image: Shutterstock
Image: Shutterstock

The next government must commit to a long-term industrial strategy that draws on the UK’s strength in engineering, innovation, research and manufacturing, according to a new set of policy priorities unveiled by the National Engineering Policy Centre (NEPC), led by the Royal Academy of Engineering. 

In Engineering a resilient and prosperous future: policy priorities for the next UK parliament, the engineering profession is calling for the next government to be bold, to take a holistic, long-term approach to tackling complex challenges like climate change and slow growth, creating strong policies on which the UK can build sustainable economic growth, helping to improve people's lives. 

Engineering experts from 42 professional engineering organisations – together representing more than 700,000 engineers across the UK – have joined forces to assess the UK’s needs, which engineering can help to address, and how these are interconnected with the wider economy. 

Reversing persistently low economic growth is essential and involves fostering innovation, supporting small businesses, and investing in strategic sectors. This will enable the UK to tackle climate change, upgrade our ageing infrastructure and build warm and healthy homes. 

The NEPC document, directed to all political parties, outlines how engineers work to tackle complex challenges and how they can work with policymakers to best meet the UK’s needs. 

With engineering posts comprising nearly 20 percent of jobs nationally and the engineering economy representing 32 percent of total economic output, it plays a vital role in UK economic growth. 

In order fully to leverage the UK’s impressive engineering and technology talents, says the NEPC, it must become a more attractive business destination. The policy priorities form a package that together can help grow the economy, protect the environment, and invest in the workforce and infrastructure of the future.   

As well as an ambitious approach to industrial strategy, the NEPC also calls on the new government to create a framework for sustainable economic growth by taking a systems approach to policy:

• Redouble the commitment to net zero and accelerate the development and adoption of green technologies by:

1. driving action and instilling confidence through fixed targets to cut carbon emissions

2. incentivising demand reduction and technology development and adoption

3. prioritising a just transition through meaningful engagement with diverse communities

4. accelerating green growth

• Deliver a National Engineering and Technology Workforce Strategy by equipping the UK with the skilled workforce needed to meet the challenges of sustainability and technological advancement by delivering a long-term holistic plan encompassing all education stages, reskilling and upskilling, to deliver a diverse engineering and technology profession with the skills needed for the future. 

• Futureproof UK infrastructure to deliver sustainable, resilient and healthy spaces by building on the National Infrastructure Assessment recommendations and joining up existing sub-national strategies to ensure infrastructure continues to deliver economic and societal benefits across the UK. 

The start of a new parliament presents the opportunity to take a bold, long-term, and holistic approach to tackling these complex challenges, says the NEPC document. 

It also presents an opportunity to shape the role the UK plays in the responsible development of emerging and rapidly evolving technologies, using engineering approaches to ensure that they are designed rigorously and sustainably, and adopted where they have the maximum benefit. 

Professor Sir Jim McDonald GBE FREng FRSE, President of the Royal Academy of Engineering, said: “Engineers are drivers of innovation and economic opportunity. They leverage advances in research to develop and deliver new products, services and enterprises that generate jobs and value [for] society. 

“More than eight million people work in the UK’s engineering economy and the profession generates up to an estimated £645bn gross value added to the economy annually. 

“For the UK to leverage that impressive engineering and technological strength, the new government needs to pursue a clear industrial strategy, underpinned by large-scale targeted support to key sectors, as many of our competitor nations have succeeded in doing. The choice is clear: we must create an environment that supports companies here, or they will go elsewhere.” 

“Sustainable infrastructure, delivered and supported by smart engineering solutions, will be critical for the UK to reach net zero and meet its social, economic, and environmental objectives,” Professor Anusha Shah, President of the Institution of Civil Engineers, added.

“While some positive progress has been made, the next government will have a lot of work to do. Listening to the sound advice of the National Infrastructure Commission and the National Engineering Policy Centre will be essential for the country to move towards a more sustainable, resilient, inclusive, and prosperous future.” 

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