Economy & Industrial Strategy

It is the economy, not schools, we need to fix – Daily Telegraph

[vc_row type=”in_container” full_screen_row_position=”middle” scene_position=”center” text_color=”dark” text_align=”left” overlay_strength=”0.3″][vc_column column_padding=”no-extra-padding” column_padding_position=”all” background_color_opacity=”1″ background_hover_color_opacity=”1″ width=”1/1″ tablet_text_alignment=”default” phone_text_alignment=”default”][image_with_animation image_url=”253″ alignment=”center” animation=”Fade In” box_shadow=”none” max_width=”100%”][divider line_type=”No Line”][vc_column_text]This piece first appeared in the Daily Telegraph on 12.09.2016

Mention schooldays and suddenly our minds are flooded with memories. It isn’t just the autumnal back-to-school weather.

The prime minister – a grammar school girl who went on to lead a country – has opened the flood gates to a debate which touches on aspiration, class, division and hope.

Everyone has their own story. I started in a grammar school which turned into a Comprehensive School. Bridgend Grammar Technical School ended up as Brynteg Comprehensive when it was merged with Heol Gam, the nearest secondary modern school.

As I entered school for the first time, I wore the classic blazer bought in the one shop in town allowed to sell it, emblazoned with the motto from the Mabinogion in Welsh, “a fo ben bid bont” – “Let he would be the leader be the bridge”.

I knew I was made for life; everyone had told me that in each pitying remark that I heard about those who “failed” the eleven plus examination. “Poor so-and-so, and his dad is so clever, they must feel terrible”. (Add a good Welsh accent to get the real effect.)

The secondary modern boys wore plain jumpers and would try to throw stones at you, but you knew you were the superior race. The grammar school I entered was a tough rugby playing place too. And I mean tough, so we were not afraid of the secondary modern roughs. The BBC have sent Stephen Evans to North Korea, so they most likely know he went to my school. Some of my schoolmates were later imprisoned for running an extortion racket that began at school!

But the really important story about my school and others like them was not blazers, test results or even the teaching. It was the jobs which were on offer when you left.

I saw it when I looked at a copy of the school magazine from the sixties. That magazine is redolent with the things we would like for our children today. There are adverts for jobs in banks, building societies and local industry, because most boys went straight from school to professional careers.

A few went to university to become doctors or teachers, and some even to become scientists like me. But we were really a rare breed.

Why go to university when you could have your house and pension sorted by the time you were twenty? The golf club and the Rotary beckoned you as you smoothly traveled in you new Austin Tourer from your detached house in a pleasant village in the vale of Glamorgan. Cowbridge was the posh place you aspired to – people who lived there worked in Cardiff.

The careers fair in the school hall had jobs with such prospects on offer at the National Coal Board and in steel. There were lots of jobs for grammar school boys – and we were all boys – and no one worried about the future.

One of the greatest grammar schools in South Wales was the school my father and his brother went to Porth County. This superb school selected from the finest minds in the Rhondda, despite the lack of affluence amongst many of its pupils. It sent off those children to careers around the UK and the world.

You might well have had a Porth County boy as a teacher or even as a headmaster – well-educated Welsh school boys went on to many such roles. Corpus Christi, Oxford had quite a few students from the Rhondda because of that school, and even NASA drew on talent from Porth County.

So the education I experienced gave a phenomenal boost for the careers of a few and a good boost to many because of the range of middle class jobs on offer. And even if you left school at 14, as my dad and others like him did, there were still lots of blue-collar decently-paid jobs to go to.

And this fact is what nobody is mentioning now. The people who benefitted most from the old educational system are those who got jobs that either no longer exist now or which today you need a degree to have any chance of getting into.

And that is the real point isn’t it? Bringing back the grammar schools will not change the opportunities for life that we need for our children if, when the exams are over, there is nowhere for them to put that education to work.

We could bring back every damn aspect of my grammar school, and some of it would be heaven to someone like me. I particularly miss the pink custard with the chocolate pudding and the cigarette on the cross country “run”. But we can’t bring back a country full of opportunities for working people without fixing the real problems of our economy, and that will need more than new faith schools and university-sponsored academies.

For too long the UK has separated education into a world of class and possibility. We need more then The Pride of Miss Jean Brodie. We don’t just want a supply-side education which feeds poor kids into degrees. We need demand for what the best whole system of education can provide.

This means thinking way beyond school and university to the economy as a whole. Who will be the employers in a globalised world which increasingly relies on automation of blue and white collar roles. Who will create the wealth and pay the taxes, and how?

Theresa May has also said Britain needs an industrial strategy and to be a world leader in trade. This can’t be a separate issue. If we are to stand a chance in a post-Brexit world we need an education system which is part of this, with a real future for clever kids from any background to do good jobs with prospects.

What does that mean for the future? Much as the British voter may be nostalgic for Malory Towers and dread Grange Hill, we need to look beyond the promises of boaters, blazers and extra Latin prep which will send only a tiny handful of our children to Oxbridge to read PPE.

Instead we need to make sure there is the globally competitive, progressive economy which can offer real hope to the many. We need more of the kind of degree apprentice routes my own university offers to industry-sponsored young people who may not pass an 11+ but who with the right training and support can and will become the engineers and industry CEOs of the future. If we think of this group as also-rans, we are headed for disaster.

But that won’t happen without a revolution in our entire approach to education and industry. We need cutting-edge industrial research and a national strategy to support our best companies as they take on the world.

Young people who pursue a vocational route must also know that they are The Chosen, that they have no limits on their potential and that their future is assured. That will take a lot more than rebranding comprehensives and introductions greater selection. It will mean making a country which actually offers the economic underpinning for a prosperous future for all our children.


Economy & Industrial Strategy

The state can save the UK’s economy – and keep our country safe – The Guardian

As the manufacturing sector shrinks, we must shake off private-sector thinking and act in the nation’s benefit to improve the economy.

Economy & Industrial Strategy

What ever happened to the Northern Powerhouse? – Daily Telegraph

[vc_row type=”in_container” full_screen_row_position=”middle” scene_position=”center” text_color=”dark” text_align=”left” overlay_strength=”0.3″][vc_column column_padding=”no-extra-padding” column_padding_position=”all” background_color_opacity=”1″ background_hover_color_opacity=”1″ width=”1/1″ tablet_text_alignment=”default” phone_text_alignment=”default”][image_with_animation image_url=”312″ alignment=”center” animation=”Fade In” box_shadow=”none” max_width=”100%”][divider line_type=”No Line”][vc_column_text]This piece first appeared in the Daily Telegraph on 12.08.2016

So what’s the story on the Northern Powerhouse?

Is it dead, or dying of association with a former Chancellor?

In any case why should you or I care about a political slogan that is so easy to mock, wherever you live?

It may be just a slogan to you, but I live and work in the north and see how much we need it.

So what is there to like about a Northern Powerhouse?

The Northern Powerhouse can transform higher vocational education in Britain. Intensive and high-value industries, many of which are focused in the north of England, can offer a vocational route into university for young people who want no delay in getting skills that are valuable to employers.

We would have more apprentices to improve manufacturing capability and productivity. We would have more manufacturing companies that export their products. We would have more vital city centres in the north.

To echo the speech of a new Prime Minister, a revitalised north would mean lots more jobs and opportunities for poor white boys and girls.

It does not take a levy on all businesses to transform opportunities to young people, it takes support in the right places. If all we do is create three million apprenticeships that lead nowhere, we have solved nothing.

Low marginal costs and cheap labour are no longer an advantage in the capital-intensive world manufacturing now operates in. Investment in vital skills can create capacity for British companies to grow, others to move to the UK and production to come back on shore.

We would have more companies keen and able to fund research in the universities of the north and make new world beating products.

This virtuous circle of productivity is what once made Manchester a European capital, home to manufacturing prowess and the world’s first computer. This upward economic trajectory filled Bradford with textiles exported to India and Shanghai, which paid for the arts and concert halls still standing today. Its global power made my own adopted city of Sheffield a byword for quality in the making of cutlery and stainless steel, invented in the city’s industrial research laboratories.

And the rest of the nation felt the north’s power. It is no coincidence that the grand Institute of Engineers in London is located just across from the Treasury. Britain’s great wealth was bolstered by this endeavour.

So how was it lost, and why haven’t we replaced it?

The north was the workshop of the world, but we just stood by as so much of our manufacturing industries died. Why? Because we as a nation had no industrial strategy for many years.

In fact, for some the mills and chimneys of the north left a distaste. They were heavy and dirty and smacked of trade. Banks and cultural establishments forget the realities of the wealth-creating endeavour which had funded them. They no longer felt the need to associate with their provincial cousins with their factories, Chambers of Commerce and Town Halls built on the back of textiles, coal, steel.

On top of that, the new metropolitan laissez-faire economic theology insisted it was right and pure to sit on our hands in the capital as the out-of-sight-and-mind workshops disappeared in the name of free trade. The theorists forgot that all great liners need a powerful boiler room in order to move fast, including the ship of state. The clean and fantastical trade of the money markets in the City of London made it easy to think it was passé to actually make a living.

If you don’t live in a place which has lost its industrial heart, you may not understand.

If you live in the great city of the world, London, the north may seem an irrelevance – truly another country. Isn’t it grim?

But much of my family still live in the devastated remains of what were the great mining community of the Rhondda valley in South Wales. And I now live in South Yorkshire, and have stood on the battlefield where the Battle of Orgreave played out.

I know that there are so many talented young people who don’t deserve a life without the blessing of work. Talented hands that could be making things for the world. So don’t try to tell me we don’t need what a Northern Powerhouse can bring.

In the north, we are determined to carry on working on it and making the most we can of our opportunities. The slogan of the Treasury and its officials caught a wind of change and it has fanned the embers.

It is not easy to pick up shattered communities when everyone knows that money follows money, and even picking yourself up with your own bootstraps sometimes needs a steadying hand if support. But a Phoenix can rise from the ashes, and I have seen the signs of its rebirth.

On the once spent and contaminated ground of Orgreave, today you will find an advanced manufacturing campus. Home to over 100 companies – global and local – 500 highly-qualified engineers and scientists and 600 apprentices who are gaining the skills of the future sponsored by companies who believe they have a future.

The people living and working in the Northern Powerhouse are not narrow in our aspirations.

For all our challenges, the north is once again trading and making partnerships for growth in the US and Korea, in India and China.

So, when a journalist for the China Daily asked me this week if the UK had abandoned the idea of a Northern Powerhouse and a thriving, productive north I answered her honestly that names are one thing, but that the need and determination remains, whatever it is called. I added a quotation from one of China’s own leaders Deng Xiaoping: ‘It doesn’t matter if the cat is black or white, as long as it catches mice.’ RIP the Northern Powerhouse? Not if we can help it.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]

Economy & Industrial Strategy Higher Education & International Partnerships

Glints of light in the post-referendum fog – The Times

This piece first appeared in The Times (£) on 18.07.2016

Post-Brexit, we have a choice as a country. We can either make this a prosperous place to be proud of – a nation that is productive and generous and can hold its head high in the world. Or we can slump into recession and intolerance.

Who doesn’t want a proud, prosperous country? Perhaps this is the one thing that unites our sorely divided nation. The people who want it most have often felt that their job or their comforts were threatened by immigrants from the EU. Whether true or not, it was honestly felt – and it hurt.

We must now work hard to make all our sons and daughters, brothers and sisters, north and south, more prosperous. If not, the ugly alternative of prejudice may grow. That is our job as university leaders.

All agree that the economy and work are at the core of our future. But are there proper jobs, not made-up ones, that could set our country on a better course? There can be if we really want there to be. But first, ask yourself: what is a “proper” job?

A proper job comes from a proper need. A proper job is one that you are willing to pay for, either through your taxes or to a company that provides the goods and services you want. It is something that contributes to society and to the nation, and in doing so creates wealth for the individual.

Our first obvious need is the infrastructure that makes a great nation and without which we will always be dragging our heels. We have seen our country triumph in this before in a way that really did make us proud – in our industrial revolution and the great projects that followed.

Now we need to do it again. We know we must mend our railways and power stations and other modern-day infrastructure such as roads, digital connectivity and defence. We also know we have to pay for this, one way or another. So if there is proper need, can’t we turn it into a proper job for someone in our own country?

We can, but it won’t happen by announcement or by creating thousands of apprenticeships. Trained people need work to go to, as the hordes of unemployed graduates in Greece and Spain can attest. Wasting talent and potential should be a crime, but it will take more than colleges and universities to avoid it. We really need to change the world, not just the classroom.

I have seen this for myself. At Sheffield, we have degree-apprentices with 600 young people from both sides of the tracks, working and studying in a state-of-the-art industrial research environment. But we recruit companies, not students. We give opportunities to apprentices only on the condition that a job awaits them at the end.

And there is more to it than that. If there is no purpose, there are no orders for products and no jobs. Can’t we just reduce the cost of borrowing for private companies so they will build bigger businesses that employ people? No, they need customers.

When it comes to grand projects and national purpose, that is why the state is there.

The first duty of the government is the defence of the realm, and that includes more than armies and tanks. Forget anxiety about state aid; what is the point of the state if not to be useful to the nation? Sometimes the country needs to be the customer of last resort on your behalf, driving purpose and meaningful employment.

In the past, this has got stuck when someone asks where the money is coming from, but here I think we have some possible movement. Theresa May is saying that she will not be restricted by existing spending limits.

There is another helpful glint of light in the post-referendum fog. If the government borrowed the money now, it would be at a miniscule interest rate. They could then buy the things we need from private UK companies that employ our own workers. We could procure with purpose.

This has been a hell of a few weeks, but the seeds of Brexit were planted over the course of decades. We have seen the near destruction of communities leading to the break-up of our “one nation”. Now we need to put that right – with jobs, with the skills of the future and with a people who can once again be not prejudiced, but proud.