Last week the House of Commons Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy committee echoed fears expressed by the CBI that the UK is lagging behind international competitors when it comes to the rate of technology adoption among businesses, especially when it comes to robotics and automation.
The CBI’s From Ostrich to Magpie report highlighted the economic benefits of innovation adoption, estimating that greater uptake could be worth £100bn and help to reduce income inequality by 5%. This cannot be achieved without bold government action to help British businesses compete in a rapidly changing international market.
Such action is outlined in the BEIS committee’s Automation and the future of work report, which calls for government to bring forward proposals in the next budget for a new tax incentive designed to encourage investment in new technology. The CBI supports a number of the committee’s recommendations, particularly those aimed at supporting SMEs and driving more collaboration. The introduction of a robotics leadership group to bring together government, business and academia in support of a Robotics Sector Deal would be a beneficial intervention, helping to foster collaboration.
Other recommendations of interest to business include calls for government to:
- Fund an impartial source of advice for businesses that want to invest in automation. This new service should be commissioned with a focus on ensuring it is fully accessible to SMEs, building on the experience of successful examples like Be the Business
- Provide a timeline for the evaluation of the Made Smarter North West pilot and commit to a fully-funded roll-out of the scheme across the UK based on the results of that work
- Work with universities and spinout businesses to offer an alternative to selling-off, including helping with access to finance, networking and business advice
What’s our verdict?
Two years on from the publication of the Industrial Strategy, this report clearly sets out the challenges the UK still faces. It should hopefully act as a catalyst for further government action.
The committee is right to set out the barriers to automation investment by businesses, including the initial cost on investment, the complexity of adoption and a lack of skills. These are issues that CBI members have continually pointed to and the measures outlined in this report, including a push for greater gender representation in the industry, will be positive step towards addressing these barriers.
The automation of jobs is not something that can be ignored. It’s why we support the committee’s sentiments that government and business will need to work together to provide clear case studies of how automation will benefit workers and the potential job creation that can be expected with greater technology uptake. Without partnering in this way, our members are worried that the resistance to change caused by fear of job automation could drastically slow the UK’s progression and hinder its international competitiveness.
We will be looking to the government’s upcoming Productivity Review to provide a clearer steer for how this administration wishes to drive the productivity agenda forward and build a platform for the UK’s future prosperity. The CBI responded to the original call for evidence and has been engaging with BEIS to express member’s views.
The CBI will be continuing its work around increasing innovation adoption, following on from the recent publication of the member guide Bigger, Faster Stronger. We will be establishing an Innovation Adoption working group to hear from members on how innovation is shared between larger and smaller firms and what potential role government and the CBI may play in making this relationship easier. To find out more please get in touch with Nathan Brown.