Is this an Industrial Strategy for everyone?


Government’s much trumpeted Industrial Strategy was finally published this week. At 132 pages, nobody could label their plans as anything less than wide-ranging. And this is a significant shift in approach by Prime Minister Theresa May - essentially taking a more active role in backing certain industries to try to boost productivity and ensure growth is more evenly spread across the country.

At the heart of the strategy is the proposal to create five “sector deals”, where Government will back areas where it thinks the UK could excel, such as the nuclear industry and the creative industries.

While we would have liked to see self-employment explicitly backed as key to the UK’s economic success, the drive to develop specialist skills in important sectors will no doubt encourage individuals to use these skills to strike out on their own and become self-employed.

No “enterprise” in education

Underpinning the strategy is the Government’s goal to build “a proper system of technical education”, similar to that in Germany and Norway – this is especially aimed at young people who do not do A-levels or go to university. While this plan certainly has merit, IPSE is disappointed that Government has ignored our calls to integrate enterprise and entrepreneurialism throughout the entire school curriculum. This is clearly needed so that young people are properly prepared for the realities of the modern world of work.

Better training opportunities needed for the self-employed

We also felt that Government could have used this opportunity to review how training is delivered in the construction sector through the antiquated Construction Industry Training Board (CITB) model. We cannot risk not having the skills to actually build much-needed infrastructure, and government needs to really explore whether the CITB model is working.

One specific thing of note for the self-employed was the announcement of a review into entrepreneurship, which will “assess the support currently available to entrepreneurs…with the aim of identifying any potential gaps in current policy”. IPSE will point towards policies that will enable the self-employed to better expand their skills, such as making training for new skills tax-deductible. We will also however urge policymakers to bear in mind that many freelancers have no interest in expanding their business and taking on staff, and government cannot ignore this substantial group of the self-employed.

A welcome commitment to infrastructure

Another thing to welcome is Government’s commitment to physical and digital infrastructure. This will see the creation of a new fund for infrastructure to unlock growth in areas where a lack of connectivity is holding them back. We hope this addresses poor broadband in rural areas, as freelancing outside major cities can still be a real struggle as a result of inadequate broadband.

Renewed commitments to building road and rail infrastructure will also help independent professionals travel more easily in the long run. This includes major rail upgrades such as the Midlands Rail Hub and Northern Powerhouse Rail, and road improvements including the M60 North West Quadrant, the A66 and the A303.

Ultimately, time will tell

It will be some time before we can judge whether this Industrial Strategy is a success or not. But its thrust and intention is undoubtedly important. Mrs May wants to emphasise that we need skilled work all across the country – not just London and the south east with the rest of the UK lagging behind. Self-employment should play a central role in this ambition, giving individuals the skills to work independently anywhere in the country and enabling businesses to innovate and expand more quickly.

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