In conversation with Greg Clark MP

January 6, 2021

In conversation with Greg Clark MP – Wednesday 28th October, 2020 – Write Up.

As part of Policy Connect’s “In conversation with…” event series, CEO Jonathan
Shaw spoke with Greg Clark MP to discuss his role as Chair of the Science and
Technology Committee. The event was attended by CHEAD’s Director of Policy, Sandra Booth, and a number of industry professionals from the skills, engineering, and science and technology sectors.
The event began with an overview of Mr Clark’s political career as MP for Tunbridge
Wells, noting that Greg is now chair of the Science and Technology Committee that scrutinises his previous role as Business Secretary.

The Q&A between Jonathan and Greg began with a line of questioning around the
reasons behind Mr Clark’s decision to run as chair of the Select Committee. Drawing
on his own experience as an MP, Jonathan also asked about the differences in
campaigning to pursuade his colleagues to vote for him, compared to knocking on
constituents’ doors. Mr Clark discussed the similarities between his colleagues and
his constituents, focussing on the competitive element of Select Committee
elections, and the need to appeal to the entirety of the House, giving an opportunity
to showcase how collaborative he could be. When discussing his reasons for running
as Chair, Mr Clark discussed his previous government work, including leading on the
Industrial Strategy, his time as University and Science minister, and how this role
influenced his opinions on the importance science and technology has on the UK’s
global standing and its day-to-day society. He also talked about his appetite to get
into the depths and complexities of science and technology, and make
recommendations that would lead to better policy decisions.

Looking forward, Mr Clark then discussed his vision for the Committee and set out
his priorities for his time as Chair. He talked about his need to raise the profile of
science and technology, both within parliament and outside, feeling that the general
public were not aware of the UK’s strengths in tech or the contributions it can make
to society. He also touched on the importance of the momentum of public support
and interest in technology and his aspirations to influence policy.

He expressed the hope that, as the years progress, the Committee will influence
policy for the better, through the use of analysis and recommendations that will be
respected and listened too. Mr Shaw noted the Committee’s ability to convene
people from across the business, academia and third sector into evidence inquiries,
ensuring that all voices can be heard and provide a suitable evidence base. Mr Clark
mentioned that one of the advantages of technology during the pandemic is the
ability to take evidence in parliament from world-leading experts across the globe
thanks to the use of video conferencing, and how this will lead to better evidence
going forward.

Industrial Strategy
Mr Shaw reminded the audience of Mr Clark‘s time as Business Sectary, where he
was responsible for publishing the Industrial Strategy, and its relationship to the
Grand Challenges laid out (AI & data, Ageing Society, Clean Growth and Future
mobility). Jonathan asked Greg what he thought of the grand challenges now; what
has changed since the publication of the industrial strategy; what has the
government, academia and industry done to advance this; and are there any areas
requiring improvement.
Mr Clark responded saying that when drafting the Industrial Strategy, the Challenges
werenot considered to be the last word but were four areas of UK strength that were
likely to be in demand during the years ahead. These seemed to be global trends
that would remain and have remained relevant even during the pandemic. In each of
the Challenges, there was an opportunity to demonstrate British strength. While it’s
premature to assess the impact of the Industrial Strategy, there have been elements
which have demonstrated success.
The Grand Challenges remain relevant and many have said a renewed commitment
would be welcomed. Mr Clark commented that Government has been quiet on the
ndustrial strategy over the last year or so, due to Brexit and the pandemic, however
he would also welcome a refreshed version of the industrial strategy, with new
additions but still honouring the central analysis.
They went on to speak briefly about the work of the Industrial Strategy Council, the
great work that has been done so far and how the pandemic has served an
opportunity to refresh the Strategy.

Research and Development
Jonathan moved the questioning onto the role of university research and R&D more
widely, considering the interest of the Science and Technology Committee.
Commenting on reseach spending Greg noted his personal achievement of raising
the level of R&D spending and is delighted to see it now at 2.4%. He did however
note he would like a government commitment to 3% in the longer term, putting the
UK above other OECD countries. Greg shared his memory of ‘battling’ with the
treasury to raise the science budget from £9bn to £12bn, which at the time, was the
biggest cash increase seen in the science budget. However, recently the
government committed a further increase from £12bn to £22bn, with Greg sharing
his astonishment and support for this decision, stressing the importance of spending
this wisely.
The event then moved onto the audience Q&A, choosing a question asked for
Greg’s thoughts on Further Education and improving innovation in science. How
could collaboration between Further Education and Higher Education be good?
Greg responded, saying that collaboration between Further Education, Higher
Education, Business and Industry is important and that some the best FE colleges
have close relationships with the businesses that are prominent in their area. He
went on to say that can optimised system where links and benefits can be shared if
we can bring together research-intensive universities, non-research intensive
universities and FE institutions together in one place.

Audience Questions
Sir Christopher Snowden – ERA Foundation
With Brexit and COVID-19, we might desperately need science and technology to be
part of the economic driver for the future. Do you think the government has
essentially picked up your roadmap and continued to be applied in an economic
sense now? And what else do you think we can do to make sure this happens?
“I’m not aware at the moment to what extent the government is going to take this
forward. Hopefully that with the analysis that went into the Industrial Strategy, it
stands the test of time. But the other part of the industrial strategy was to look at the
kind of five cross-cutting areas in which we need deliberately to plan to do better.
One was increasing our R&D intensity. The second was to improve our level of
technical skills, which will hopefully happen. The third was to invest in infrastructure
to catch up to other countries that have done better, whether that’s physical
infrastructure or virtual infrastructure. The fourth is to increase the sense of place,
and local leadership and to do what we’re now calling levelling up, which is to allow
places to catch up and to be helped to be encouraged. And the fifth was to create
and sustain an open and competitive business environment. This means that we
don’t use the industrial strategy to subsidise struggling businesses, but really to
reinforce the opportunities we have. I hope the government will commit to that and
hope they will stick with it and implement it.”

Rob Davies – UCL Closer
In this new COVID-19 world we find ourselves in and kind of post-Brexit. Should the
government create a department of science and technology, and in particular, a
network of regional scientific advisors to not just support the CSA, but ensure that
place is embedded in evidence-informed policy and decision making?
“With a budget of £22bn a year, that is going to be bigger than many Whitehall
departments, although I hope it’s going to be spent by research institutions and
universities. There’s something about the kind of weight in Whitehall, and I found
there was some controversy when the Department of Energy and Climate Change
was abolished – as it was initially thought to be when Theresa May came into power
and put into the business department. I think, in practice, that made better
connections, and increased the weight in Whitehall of that department. I do like the
idea of scientific advisors across the country. Some people may not know that each
government department has a Chief Scientific Advisor. I found them, in my role as a
Secretary of State, to be absolutely invaluable. There were questions that you could
turn to the CSA, and they could convene the right people to give the right advice.
And I always involve my Chief Scientific advisors in policy discussions. And I think
that would be an excellent thing to have available across the country.”

Sandra Booth – Council for Higher Education in Art and Design CHEAD
In the post-war recovery, we saw Design Schools established and fantastic design students playing a vital role in building back. And we saw the enhanced role of design and design thinking so we are hoping that the
industrial strategy going forward embraces design, strategic design and design
thinking. Do you see a role for design in enhancing R&D and productivity?
“Absolutely. This is a key area of British strength and excellence, and we should be
recognising it more. One of the things I was resistant to doing in the industrial
strategy or tried to overcome is the idea that industrial strategy means your
manufacturing processes, not that they don’t involve a lot of design. But it isn’t just
about manufacturing by any means. And of course, a lot of design has an application
beyond that. Industrialism is a word that sometimes leads people to think of a certain
subset of industries but you only need to think of the creative industries that are
absolutely vital. Design is very important in that, as are the humanities in almost
every respect. Our strength as a nation comes from our excellence in creativity and
we mustn’t lose that. And indeed, if we want to revive places, then in my view, no
place, no city is going to be an economic success if it’s not also a cultural success.
People don’t want to live in places that may be efficient economically but are boring
culturally, vibrancy is really important and design is one aspect of that.”

David Smith – Specac
We hear a lot about the productivity gap, to close that gap we’re going to need SMEs
to adopt automation, AI and digitisation. Do you think the main role in that is for the
government to make that happen? Or how do we persuade SME leaders that this
stuff applies to them as well? It’s not just about big businesses doing it.
“So this is a key question. And we grappled with it in the industrial strategy, it goes to
this point of what Andy Haldane described as the long tail of poor productivity. And
what he said was that we have some companies that are amongst the most
productive on the planet, frankly, most admired around the world, but they co-exist
with ones that haven’t adopted the techniques, processes and the automation and
use of AI, that the cutting edge has. And as well as advancing that cutting edge, if
only you could bring up the tail as it were, by even a bit, then you would increase the
average level of productivity and therefore the prosperity of the whole country. So
the question is, getting technologies that are not new, that are already being
practised by some companies and businesses, to others. And of course, for smaller
businesses, there is a particular challenge, they may not have the budgets to be able
to allow people to go off and be trained and to adopt the latest techniques. Often,
especially in times like this, it’s all hands on the pumps if you’re running a small
business, and you may not be part of the networks that will enable you to know
what’s going on in other businesses. So as you said, Jonathan, people like Juergen
Meyer, with his Made Smarter initiative, and Be The Business which Charlie Mayfield
headed up.These were ways in which you could diffuse some of the practices,
especially in some of the big companies, and help implant in some of the smaller
companies. But I think we need to be better at this because if we are, then we can
help more companies and therefore workers enjoy the higher productivity that is
available. What is tantalising about it is that it doesn’t require some breakthrough
discovery. It’s there now. If only we can have it adopted. And that must be possible
to achieve.”

Ana Julia Fernandes – ECITB
If we are to have an update industrial strategy, should we not also focus on skills
interventions and, and look at, you know, perhaps maybe the base of a committee
and education Select Committee working together on this
Franziska von Blumenthal – ECITB
So I’m wondering if perhaps now would be a good moment for select committees to,
as previously mentioned, join together and create a long term vision or strategy, a
10-year plan if you’d like for the skills that accompany the industrial strategy?
“The development of T levels is in association with the sector or the industry to which
they are most relevant. So there is that connection there. But I agree with both
guests that the diagnosis was there. But I think we’ve got much further to go in really
implementing, and transforming the level of skills that we have in this country. Before
COVID, when times were better, in all parts of the country, when I was a minister, I
would go and people would say, ‘we’re constrained by the skills that that are
available, we could do so much more, our order books are full, but we can’t get our
hands on the skills. We’ve got great jobs, well-paid jobs with wonderful, satisfying
careers available, but people don’t have the skills.’ And it goes right down to schools
to make sure that people have the right entry qualifications to be able to do the right
courses, whether in further education and apprenticeships or universities. And some
of the most frustrating stories I heard from employers were that ‘we would love to
have these people but they don’t have the right qualifications to get in, they’ve
dropped subjects too early’. So I think we’ve got to have a big push on that. If you
reflect on where we are with COVID, which we know the report from the Resolution
Foundation this morning, drew attention to what a tough time this is, especially for
young people. Let’s do what we can with that and if young people are struggling to
get in easily to the kind of jobs that they could count on before then we’re going to put our arms around them and make sure that we create the training and educational opportunities that they can make the most of this time outside of the labour market.
They’d rather be working but if they’re not going to be, let’s not let them go fallow,
let’s equip them with the skills that they need to be able to take up the jobs that are
being created and will be created again in the future.

Jonathan then thanked Greg for joining us and thanked the audience before bringing the event to a close.

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