King’s speech highlights
The King’s Speech to Parliament has promised new legal frameworks to support the safe commercial development of emerging industries and to encourage innovation in technologies such as machine learning, the most commonly-used form of artificial intelligence. Details are expected to come from the Department of Science, Innovation and Technology. Autonomous vehicles are specifically identified, although their progress has been slow. Then-transport secretary Chris Grayling said, in a speech in 2017, that he expected them to be used on British roads by 2021.
There was also a commitment to move towards the introduction of the Advanced British Standard (ABS), the new qualification that Rishi Sunak said would replace A Levels and T Levels. A consultation document is expected shortly, leading to a White Paper next year.
Action is promised to increase the number of “high quality apprenticeships” and to “reduce the number of young people studying poor quality university degrees”.
Commenting on the ABS, Geoff Barton, chief executive of the Association of School and College Leaders, told FE Week: “Bringing technical and academic qualifications together is worthwhile but the Advanced British Standard is not going to exist for 10 years, if at all. It is not the right priority at a time when the education profession is under so much pressure.”
A bill was promised to “support the future licensing of new oil and gas fields, helping the country to transition to net zero by 2050 without adding undue burdens on households”. The North Sea Transition Authority (NSTA) will be required to hold annual licensing rounds for new drilling, according to the Financial Times, which notes that the NSTA holds such rounds most years anyway and that the bill is largely to highlight the policy difference with Labour, which has pledged to end the issuing of licences should it win the next election.
In view of the changed North Sea policy, EAMA has suggested that the ban on UK Export Finance supporting oil and gas-related exports should be lifted. EAMA said the ban was premature when it was imposed in 2021.
There was surprise, reported from the financial services sector, that there was no mention of a bill for pensions reform aimed at raising levels of investment in private equity, given recent speeches. The sector is now looking to see what is included in the autumn statement on November 21st.
Advanced Manufacturing Plan ‘this month’
An Advanced Manufacturing Plan may be published alongside the autumn statement, due on November 21st. This would fill the gap left by the failure to publish a Manufacturing Investment Prospectus, which was promised by end-2022 but has never surfaced.
In oral evidence to the business and trade committee in September, Badenoch was asked if the plan would be ready in time for the autumn statement/ “Yes, I imagine it should be,” she replied.
Asked what government means by “advanced manufacturing”, she said: “Advanced manufacturing is high-value manufacturing. It is not producing little bits and pieces that really create low-wage work. It is taking advantage of what we specialise in and what we are good at.
“It is about using R&D, innovation, the deep expertise we have in our universities and our relatively highly skilled population to create products that are meeting future technological demand and helping us to solve the problems of tomorrow, which are things like climate change and problems on the health side.
“We would classify auto as advanced manufacturing because auto is one of the areas where we do have significant changes in the works. Aerospace would be another. Robotics would be another,” Badenoch said.
She also indicated that there is a departmental element to her thinking – and that “advanced manufacturing” sits with her department.
In March 2023, HM Treasury valued advanced manufacturing at £93 billion a year, less than half the manufacturing sector as a whole, and there has been no clarity as to what is included and what is not. Critics have argued that, in any case, advanced manufacturing should be about how things are made, not what is made – “process, not product”.
Badenoch rejected oft-repeated criticism of the government for failing to have an industrial strategy: “I would not say we do not have an industrial strategy in the UK. We certainly have a strategy. What we are not doing is having a brochure that will be out of date as soon as it is printed.”
Link: committees.parliament.uk/oralevidence/13664/pdf/ (see especially Q54 and Q57)