Monday, January 30, 2017

More ‘active’ government promises special deals

Doing deals is all the rage in political circles just now.

Donald Trump wants to do a trade deal with Theresa May and put the UK at the front of the queue. She wants to do special deals with different parts of UK industry as part of her proposed industrial strategy making this an unprecedented opportunity for building engineering services.

Amidst all this deal making, it is vital that BESA members make their voices heard via our latest State of Trade survey .

The Prime Minister has promised that her government would take an “active role” in shaping the future direction of the UK business community as we prepare to leave the EU and has indicated that different parts of British industry will be invited to put their case forward for special treatment.

Officials say they are prepared to lighten regulatory burdens and create special arrangements for sectors able to present a clear argument for how this would help them improve performance and drive productivity.

The automotive and aerospace industries have secured special treatment in the past and the crucial role of building engineering services in supporting business growth through improving the built environment; protecting the health and well-being of occupants while also influencing their productivity; and supporting the development of ‘smart’ cities should receive similar political attention.

This is an opportunity not to be missed and BESA is gearing up to ensure its members are fully represented in the forthcoming consultation process that will shape the Prime Minister’s strategy – see this short video for a summary.

Mrs May’s vision – unveiled in a green paper this week – already includes measures that directly benefit our sector and confirm that Government has listened, such as improving procurement, making Britain a hub for science, technology and innovation, upgrading infrastructure and a £170m fund for new institutes of technology to improve our STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) skills.

Extending the reach of broadband networks; driving innovation in clean energy; and “addressing regulatory barriers” to trade are also messages our industry wants to hear.

The outline strategy includes a proposal to provide maintenance loans for school leavers, who don’t want to go to university, but are keen to follow a technical education route. There is a strong regional focus to the skills plan as the new technical institutes will be created in different parts of the country and will reflect the specific needs of local employers.

This is very much in line with the new strategy for apprenticeships, which the government hopes to develop with support from the Apprenticeship Levy that comes into effect next year.

An ‘industrial strategy challenge fund’ is also being developed to distribute millions of pounds for research and development in areas such as smart energy, robotics and artificial intelligence – as well as to extend and improve communication networks.

Business Secretary Greg Clark is inviting different technical sectors to work with him on the proposed strategy, but has already made it clear that practical skills will be a key priority.

“For many years, the UK has not been as good on technical education as our competitors,” he said while inviting different sectors to put forward their arguments for greater investment in the key skills they require.

It is, therefore, more important than ever that BESA hears from members about their business priorities for the coming months and years as we prepare to represent your interests in this consultation process.

And, with that in mind, we have launched the first State of Trade survey to be carried out in partnership with the ECA and the Scottish body SELECT. Working with our industry partners in this way will allow us to build up a broader picture of trends and concerns across the sector while also raising the profile of the industry.

Our last survey showed that BESA members were, on the whole, relatively upbeat about ‘Brexit’ and could see major long-term benefits if the obvious economic hurdles were overcome in the short-term. It will be very interesting to see how your views have changed – or not – in light of recent events and how Mrs May’s planned strategy might influence your thinking.

The Prime Minister was to ‘cultivate world-leading sectors’ to show that ‘Britain is open for business’ and construction, which has a global history of exporting its intellectual expertise in this area, is ripe for benefiting from this strategy.

Please, therefore, do take part in the survey, which covers the final quarter of last year and should take no more than five minutes to complete. All answers are confidential and, as a thank you for taking part, one respondent will win an Apple iPad Mini.

The closing date is Friday 3 February.

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