On the day that Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills, Vince Cable, declared to Liberal Democrat conference that the UK’s current economic situation should be likened to war, we were in the trenches of Birmingham fringe activity for the first of our events at this year’s political party conferences.
Will Hutton kicked off proceedings, laying out his vision for the UK economy in 2025 – recovery, and the UK’s global competitiveness, lies in our ability to understand the complex interconnectedness of the key players in the economy, and creating the conditions under which they are able to generate the new ideas, business models and technologies that can fundamentally transform the face of economic growth in the UK. In short – as our mission statement testifies – we need to make the UK a global innovation hub, and improve the economic plumbing of the UK’s innovation ecosystem.
The line-up of speakers included Professor Birgitte Andersen, Director of the Big Innovation Centre, Vicky Pryce (recently appointed adviser to business secretary Vince Cable MP), Lorely Burt MP (Co-Chair of the Liberal Democrat Parliamentary Policy Committee on Business, Innovation and Skills) and Paul Spence (Strategy and Regulation Director at EDF Energy). Will Hutton commended parts of Vince Cable’s speech to conference as showing a role for stakeholder capitalism, where key players are aware of the reciprocal and binding forces that permeate the economic system. Birgitte Andersen stressed the urgency of our current situation, highlighting the role of the, as yet unknown, general purpose technologies that are key for unleashing growth in the UK. Birgitte urged the government, industry and universities to be bold and experimental. For the UK to succeed, she argued, the key players must recognise their mutual dependency: “the banks can’t do it alone, industry can’t do it alone, universities can’t do it alone, the state can’t do it alone: we must work together”.
Paul Spence provided an industry perspective, outlining the key issues affecting EDF Energy. We have to innovate to stay ahead as a company, he told the room, and the low-resource economy will play a critical role in our contribution to the future of the UK. Paul highlighted the problems of perception with STEM skills and echoed Birgitte’s call to arms: as a country we need to talk ourselves up if we are to succeed.
Vicky Pryce, drawing on her previous experience as head of the economics division at the Department of Business, highlighted that whilst government and big companies often provide a nurturing role for some high growth SMEs, they are also stifling to others, and the Big Innovation Centre will be pivotal in providing in-depth analysis of the complex interplay of factors affecting high growth firms. Lorely Burt MP echoed this position, highlighting the critical role of government understanding in the interconnected nature of key economic players. Only through such an approach, argued Lorely, can we create economic conditions that benefit all across society. Contributions from both the panel and the audience were broadly in accord: if we don’t understand how the key economic players are mutually dependent, we will never be able to progress the conditions for growth which will improve standards of living for all.
As the Big Innovation Centre embarks on many battles of research and analysis, we remain clear in our mission. To borrow Vince’s analogy, for the UK to win in the economic war we must win the individual battles – across sectors, places, finance, higher education and industry – that are crucial to such a victory across the innovation ecosystem. Watch this space in our ongoing conquest to make the UK a global innovation hub.