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'Small beer' Budget for disruptive technologies

Professor David Bailey welcomes funding for new technologies buts says the UK still lags behind other countries in these fields

The next generation of driverless vehicle launched by RDM Group at Automechanika at the NEC
Driverless technology needed more funding from the Budget says David Bailey

What does the Budget tell us about the Government's new industrial strategy?

Well, in an otherwise pretty dull budget, the Chancellor did announce funding for new technologies such as driverless cars and electric vehicle batteries.

That's a welcome start and something that the auto sector has been calling for.

However, the sums on offer, just £270 million, to put the UK at the "forefront" of a range of disruptive technologies including robotics, biotech and driverless cars, seem pretty small beer compared to what's going on in other countries.

The Obama government, for example, set out a ten-year, $4bn programme in the United States to invest in driverless cars alone.

Sadly, there was no news on any measures to rebuild supply chains, despite Nissan's call for such efforts recently.

It was a great shame that both the Manufacturing Advisory Service and the Advanced Manufacturing Supply Chain Initiative were scrapped by the last Business Secretary.

These need to be reinvented quickly - maybe via Local Growth Hubs in LEPs - if opportunities to 'reshore' manufacturing supply chains are to be seized.

We were also told that the Midlands Engine strategy will finally be published.

This represents an effort by the May government to shift the focus away from an emphasis on the so-called Northern Powerhouse, so hyped by the previous Chancellor George Osborne (usually in a 'hi-viz' jacket).

So far, I've been scratching my head to figure out exactly what the Midlands Engine is other than a 'pitch book' for attracting foreign investment and some useful co-operation over transport planning.

A real Midlands Engine strategy could be a welcome move if it enabled the possibility to develop a more sensible, regionally based industrial policy, for example covering innovation, clusters, rebuilding supply chains, and skills.

The Industrial Strategy Green Paper earlier this year was a welcome first step but ended with something of a whimper in its final chapter on 'place'.

Nearly seven years on from the scrapping of the old Regional Development Agencies, we have yet to properly join up regional development at a sufficient scale to be able to 'do' industrial policy regionally.

The West Midlands Combined Authority might offer a step in that direction, of course.

Professor David Bailey works at Aston Business School

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