Information about speeches made by Professor Lord Bhattacharyya. Further information about the House of Lords can be found at the Hansard Report for UK Parliament.
Industrial Strategy - Debte
House of Lords
8th January 2018
In our previous debate on the industrial strategy, the noble Lord, Lord Hennessy, pointed out that this is the eighth attempt at an industrial strategy since the war—I think that somebody else said that it was the ninth. The sheer number of strategies shows the disconnect between them and demonstrates the core problem of Britain’s approach to industrial policy. We focus on the short term and not the long view. We do not review success, revise targets or refine our approach. We just rip it up and start again from scratch a few years later.
The consequences can be disastrous. We have had many White Papers on skills—just to give one example—but there has been no consistency in implementation and no stability in institutions. We have gone from levy to grant to levy, from training boards to skills councils and back. These changes have often been confusing and chaotic. It is no surprise then that we have a near-permanent skills crisis. With all the money that has been spent on it during the past 20 years, nothing has happened.
Adult Skills and Lifelong Learning - Debate
Both the Budget last week and today’s Industrial Strategy White Paper underline the importance of skills and lifelong learning to British economic success. However, the White Paper’s stress on the importance of adult skills and lifelong learning is not new. After all, we are nearing the centenary of the Ministry of Reconstruction’s 1919 report on adult education, which led to local authorities being given responsibility for adult education. Indeed, as Winston Churchill said in 1954:
“There is perhaps no branch of our vast educational system which should more attract within its particular sphere the aid and encouragement of the State than adult education”.
More recently, we have had the Moser report, which led to Skills for Life, and the Leitch report, which led to Train to Gain.
To deliver these strategies, we have had a dazzling array of bodies: the Manpower Services Commission, the training and enterprise councils, the Learning and Skills Council, the Skills Funding Agency, and the Learning and Skills Network. Yet despite the reports, the commissions, the councils, the agencies and the networks, the core issues remain. Work by the LSE’s Centre for Vocational Education Research shows that the percentage of adult employees in learning or training has been falling since the millennium. Of those in learning or training, there is a rise in the numbers doing short courses and a fall in the share working towards a qualification.
The truth is that far too few adults at work are getting a good education or earning a widely recognised qualification that will strengthen their long-term career prospects. At the same time, technological change is transforming the world of work. No one wants their parents’ autonomous car or their internet-enabled medical devices to be insecure or wrongly updated because of poor skills. In autonomous vehicles alone—we design a lot at WMG—the scale of reskilling needed is enormous, whether in car design, highway maintenance, manufacturing, dealers, commercial transport or regulators. Learning new skills and reskilling workers in sectors that are being transformed by new technologies is increasingly essential.
To be fair, recent Governments, whether Labour, coalition or Conservative, have followed Churchill’s advice and recognised that adult skills are a priority. The White Paper on industrial strategy shows the beginnings of a non-partisan approach to the issue, although it might not look that way from the Front Bench. You can always tell when there is a cross-party consensus: the Opposition accuse the Government of recycling old ideas. The industrial strategy deserves a broad, if restrained, welcome for its approach to adult skills. One of the most pleasing signs of this in the White Paper is the recognition that the TUC and the CBI both need to be involved in the national retraining partnership. Similarly, I am happy that Unionlearn was extended. It is an excellent programme.
At WMG we offer levels 1 to 3 only to students up to 18 at our Academy for Young Engineers, which we run under the auspices of the Baker Dearing Educational Trust. The majority of these students either go to university or become apprentices. At WMG itself, we offer courses at levels 4, 5, 6 and above. By the end of the decade we will have more than 1,000 apprentices at any particular time. Skills programmes such as the ones we run today work well for larger employers which can afford to think for the long term—but what about the backbone of the economy, the small and medium-sized firms?
All our 1,000 apprentices are paid for, fully, by the companies. They also pay the university to get their degrees. Only one in 10 SMEs offers apprenticeships. The proportion offering higher and advanced apprenticeships is even lower. Business has to put its hand in its pocket to change this. Big business especially has to do more to help its suppliers and its sector. When I was an apprentice, more apprentices were trained by the company so that some of them could go to the suppliers and the smaller sectors. There is no point in businesses crying about the lack of proper technical education if they are not prepared to invest in their sector’s success.
Science and Innovation Strategy - Question for Short Debate
House of Lords
23 October 2017
WMG has a strong record of industry innovation partnerships going back many years. It was set up by the then Prime Minister, Mrs Thatcher. We will be the home of the National Automotive Innovation Centre, which will, in the end, have a funding of just over £1 billion, entirely from the private sector, at a British university. We are delighted to be part of the recently announced Faraday Institution. Getting that sort of funding comes only with delivering impact.
It is very welcome that, for the first time in several decades, “industrial strategy” is no longer an anathema. I remember speaking in the debates here that created the Technology Strategy Board, now Innovate UK. It was a hard slog. The current welcome shift in attitude to industry was spurred on by the Prime Minister’s first speech outside Downing Street. The Business Secretary, Greg Clark, has done an excellent job of focusing the industrial strategy on the pillars of future growth. On top of that, the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council’s focus on impact, the Nurse review and the inclusion of Innovate UK within UK Research and Innovation have helped move the agenda forward. I fought very hard to get UKRI and Innovate UK together because I thought that was the best way for us to have technology transfer.
House of Lords
25 April 2017
When I started my engineering career back in the 1960s, British Steel was respected around the globe. From Bessemer’s processes to Goodeve’s BISRA stainless steel, Britain was the home of global steel innovation.
However, no other nation has treated its steel industry the way that we have since. We did not just throw the baby out with the bath-water, we threw away the bath, the taps, the pipes and sewers. First, we had three decades of contradictory, inconsistent and underfinanced industrial strategies, then three decades of no strategy at all. That left us exposed so that the steel crisis hurt British producers more than our competitors. It is a global crisis. There are over 200 anti-dumping measures listed at the WTO against one country alone. We are at 30% global overcapacity and flat demand, yet steel capacity is increasing by more than 5% a year.
House of Lords
14 March 2017
I have called for an industrial strategy for many years, sometimes in this House, but there has always been a perception that this meant picking winners. That is a gamble, not a strategy. Instead, we should create a framework to support growth, give new technologies time to prove their market value and help people acquire the skills new technologies need.
This is the basis of Greg Clark’s new approach as Minister for Industrial Strategy. We see the first results in the budget decisions from the national productivity investment fund. Fast mobile and fibre data connections, along with new roads and energy networks, will increase returns for investors in Britain.
House of Lords
15 March 2017
We know that academic traditions can obstruct business collaboration. For example, grant application writing is a highly prized skill in universities, for a very good reason: critical assessment of research proposals is vital to academic debate. Businesses see this rather differently, especially if they are expected to disclose commercially sensitive knowledge. The Technology Strategy Board was created to address this cultural gap. We debated it here for about four years before it was formed because there were arguments on whether government should intervene and pick winners and many other arguments at that time. But we won and the Technology Strategy Board was created. Of course, this body is now Innovate UK.
House of Lords
A strategy on its own is not enough. Attention to detail and sustained commitment are the keys to success. We must continue to push business and academia to look outward. We have to reach out to create new global partners and stand beside them in the tough times as well as the good. This matters because trade is not simply the purchase of goods but the building of relationships. So all industrial policies need to be built on a dialogue between British industry and the world. Most of all, we need to develop a mindset of competitiveness, to which the Government should always respond.
House of Lords
Through bodies such as Innovate UK and industry groups such as the Automotive Council, as well as knowledge transfer networks, the Government must use our strength in science to develop a private sector committed to growth through innovation, investment and collaboration—in other words, a real industrial strategy. That would help increase our national wealth, spread prosperity more widely and help build a broad-based sustainable economy.
House of Lords
We must change the ways we teach skills to fit how companies work today. For example, at WMG we are partners with the Jaguar Land Rover Academy, which invests a more than £150 million a year on lifelong learning for every employee. Courses range from day release to full-time postgraduate degrees. They are run at different times, at varying intensities and in a wide range of locations. To make this work, at WMG we ensure all academy courses at every level are university approved, that progression between levels is seamless and that the skills offered match business needs. This is an innovative model of adult education making the boundary between work and learning permeable so that employees learn what is really useful in their career.
Keynote Speech at Insider Spark Event, Birmingham, UK
Today the connections are there but nowhere near strong enough. Despite the presence of outstanding research in our universities, only 1% of British businesses say universities are of “high importance” as a source of innovation. This has serious implications for our future.
When I served as a young apprentice at Lucas Industries, the Birmingham group was a world leader. Yet a lack of investment in innovation meant Lucas was very quickly overtaken by emerging companies from Germany and Japan. They are now global giants. Lucas no longer exists.
So just like universities themselves, British business needs to change. Business leaders need to recognise the value that research adds to their business. Managers need to understand that their future growth can come only through the development and exploitation of new ideas. We need to make sure that managers and researchers are given the chance to research, to learn and expand their horizons as part of their career growth.
House of Lords
Two years ago, I was treated for pneumonia at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital Birmingham, a fantastic new hospital led by an outstanding former nurse, Dame Julie Moore. The care I received was immaculate, and I understood then why the NHS is sometimes called our other national religion. However, I see it as our national science. After all, it is the subject of many experiments and is constantly being tested.
One current test is higher care standards, which requires more medical staff on wards. As a result, agency staff costs have soared. Monitor expects the bill to be over £4 billion this year, blaming a fundamental mismatch between supply and demand for medical staff. A lot of companies have made very good profit exploiting this, and it is rather ironic Ministers are now proposing a cap on rising bills as the answer. The truth is that, whether in energy or agencies, price caps are a short-term fix. The solution is to increase supply.
Speech at Celebration Event for Indian Alumni, New Delhi, India, 05 December 2015
Vice Chancellor, colleagues, friends; I am very happy to be here celebrating fifty years of Warwick. But I must confess - my reason is not entirely pure. Like our University, I’ve now been in England for fifty years. That’s a lot of English winters. Nigel, I am very glad you gave me a chance to get away from one!
I’ve learned a lot at Warwick, but the most important lesson is never keep an academic from their dinner! Tonight, we mark the University of Warwick’s fiftieth year. There is a lot to talk about. A lot done in a little time.
Speech to the Confederation of Indian Industry, New Delhi, India, 04 December 2015
We are speaking of the future today, but I realise it is now twenty five years since WMG and the CII began our partnership when CII was in its previous premises under the leadership of Tarun Das.
In the late 1980’s we did a lot of collaborative programmes and our relationship strengthened when CII was the main partner of the Indo-British Partnership. Michael Heseltine, now Lord Heseltine, was our Secretary for Trade, accompanied by Richard Needham. They were the heydays of Indo-British Partnership relationships. I remember in one of the visits when we met with Tarun Das and Jamsehd Irani, the team flew in the Concorde to Delhi and then to Bangalore. That was the first time that India and Britain started partnerships that happen now all over the world; we provided the benchmark and demonstrator of what could be possible.
Keynote Speech from the Cotswold Life EMI Awards, 17 September 2015
British Manufacturing and engineering has changed enormously since I started WMG, but the biggest change isn’t in computing, or in low-carbon, or in materials. It’s that companies like yours have proved you can succeed.
I don’t pretend things are easy or perfect. Business never is. There’s a lot we could do better in Britain. We need more Research and Development and innovation. We need better access to finance, so we can make the most of success. We need better infrastructure and far better skills. It’s easy to complain about all that. Actually, it’s quite right to demand change. But it’s even better to improve things yourselves.
The 2015 Higher Education Technicians Summit
There’s a phrase in the Gatsby foundation report on university technicians that struck a chord with me. It is "technicians constitute the bridge between the material world and the scientists and engineers who are investigating it". Without that bridge, higher education loses a vital connection to the world it exists to serve.
I have seen this for myself. I began my career as a graduate apprentice at Lucas industries, where I learned from technicians how to really be an engineer. We worked as a team, trying to solve business problems. However good my theoretical knowledge was, I learned it was useless without an understanding of how to make it happen. The bridge between the theoretical and the material was everything.