My Lords, the United Kingdom finds itself at an economic crossroads. This is due not just to the current financial crisis but also to the fact that changes need to be taken in our business and industrial landscape. I congratulate my noble friend Lord Heseltine on the submission of his excellent report. A renewed focus on overseas trade is severely overdue as we cannot continue to buy so much more than we sell. Our industries must be world leading and globally competitive, thus attracting inward investment and potential for us to increase exports.
I was pleased that this report placed an emphasis on the long-term stability of our science and research sector, and how we market it. We need to better support and stimulate the creativity we hold within, and ensure that this is better promoted to the rest of the world.
I would also draw attention to the report’s focus on the need for our government departments to build better relationships with the private sector and with each other. So much can be gained from government embracing private sector business in a way that works with it rather than alongside it. We must give businesses confidence that the Government understand their concerns and share their aims. I agree with my noble friend Lord Heseltine that wealth creation should be the business of all government departments. BIS and the Treasury cannot capitalise on every opportunity for growth and wealth creation without the help of those in other fields. I am therefore in favour of departments contributing to a wider growth strategy through which they could join up their thinking and complement each other.
The notion of localism is also extremely important and we must capitalise on the progress that the Government are already making on this. I was pleased to hear the Chancellor accept the recommendation that more of the funding for locally tailored schemes will go into a general pot for which local enterprise partnerships can bid. True innovation is released when it is free from central constraints, and it is the job of central government to promote and support this. Competitive bidding for such funds will encourage local communities to raise their game, give the successful bidders freedom to spend in ways that better support their local areas and, ultimately, build a nation of more ambitious and creative communities. There needs to be a greater level of co-ordination between government and the private sector, and indeed within the Government themselves. There also needs to be full recognition of the benefits of allowing strong, independent and dynamic local economies to flourish, supported but not controlled by national government.
In conclusion, I agree that we should think hard about our industrial approach, with a fresh examination of a wider economic landscape and a reshaping of our education system. We also need to take a creative look at the skills agenda.