We are 5 months on from the Brexit vote and the debate keeps rumbling on regarding the options for leaving the EU. I suspect it will not just be months, but years before we really get to understand what our trading and economic relationship with the EU will be, but I am extremely hopeful that beyond the rhetoric, we really can get a good deal that works for the EU and the UK. Only a deal that works for both will be good for our UK economy.
Whilst all this goes on, I have been extremely encouraged by the way business has pulled together post-Brexit to champion initiatives that provide us the confidence to keep investing in this prolonged period of Brexit uncertainty. Sometimes it takes a ‘crisis’ to bring people together and drive with a stronger purpose towards a common goal and for the good of the country.
An area where this is happening, is in us pulling together and working in a much more aligned partnership with Government to create a much stronger Industrial Strategy.
The UK is at a critical point in our industrial history. We have a fantastic heritage at the forefront of the Industrial Revolution in the 18th century, and now we have an equally exciting and dramatic opportunity to harness the next industrial revolution – the Digital Industrial revolution. This will bring investment, innovation and skilled jobs back to the UK, powering the future economy.
We saw the beginning of this exciting revolution happening in Hull today, as the Secretary of State for Business Greg Clark and myself officially opened the Siemens wind power blade factory there.
This is incredibly good news, already having created 700 new jobs and 96% of those recruited from within 30 miles of Hull.
The scale of what Siemens, and our partners ABP, have created is quite unbelievable and needs to be seen to be believed. The picture attached only gives a small flavour of the transformation. In under two years, this site has been transformed to become a modern high value manufacturing centre of excellence from a previous derelict, run-down port that expressed the sadness of the post industrial decline that we have seen so much of over recent decades.
But, whilst this is exciting and positive, it must only be the beginning. We hope for the creation of many thousands more jobs within this industry over the next decade. We especially hope for the creation of the new digital industries that will be supporting offshore wind power: Drone technology, Robotics, Virtual Reality and even Artificial Intelligence.
We actually have no option, because for us to continue to bring the cost down for off-shore wind energy and stay competitive we have to deploy such automation and digital technologies. The problem is that this will have an effect of reducing the amount of jobs required in the traditional manufacturing and servicing of wind turbine technology that we have only just created! That is the bad news. But as we can’t, and don’t, want to stop this from happening, we have to balance it. We can do this by, at the same time, creating the jobs that will develop and supply the new digital technologies, the robots, the industrial drones, the software that will support the deployment of these technologies. The good news is that these will be the new, even higher value, jobs that will over time replace more traditional and repetitive production tasks.
Put simply, we have to create more of the digital enablement jobs that will replace the jobs this technology itself displaces. Unfortunately, making sure this happens won’t be easy. There is a global race to develop the technology that will power this new world of Industrial Digitalisation and we can only get more than our fair share of it, if we develop a clear strategy of how we will develop and grow this new industrial sector. This strategy should be based on: a much higher spend on R&D and innovation; creating stronger and better coordinated ecosystems for research collaboration between academics, large and small business; and, finally, a parallel strategy to develop the skills of the future.
In summary, this Industrial Digitalisation strategy is essential to creating the high tech, high value jobs that will power this new 4th Digital Industrial revolution and if we get it right, it will be the key to rebalancing the economy and raising living standards. We need to move quickly, but that is for another day. For now, I would like to conclude by thanking all of our team at Hull and our Partners for their fantastic efforts in making all what has been achieved possible.