The government finally published its long awaited "Low Carbon Industrial Strategy" today. This was the document which was supposed to light the green touch paper and set the UK economy on a course for long-term prosperity built on clean new industries. So did it deliver on this promise? The short answer is no., at least not entirely.
Buried within the 90-page document there are a few new policies of real merit, concrete measures to boost UK industrial capability in areas of major economic opportunity. For example, there is £120m to support a British-based offshore wind industry, a package of measures to improve testing and demonstration facilities for marine renewables, and the establishment of a public-private research centre to strengthen the nuclear industry supply chain. All very promising developments in their own right.
However, what was conspicuous by its abscence, was a long-term vision or sense of priority. The document gives no indication of what the government's priorities are for green development over the next 5-10 years. Instead, if one were to be extremely critical, it reads like a few short-term funding annoucements accompanied by a mass of restatements of existing policy and previous announcements. The strategy should have been bolder and sent a much clearer message to would-be investors about long-term funding priorities.
First, the focus should have been tighter. Rather than setting out nearly a dozen general areas of opportunity, four or five key areas should have been identified. The recession and the state of public finances will mean that resources are scarce in both the public and private sectors for several years to come. So to maximise its impact and attract private investment, government funding will need to tightly focused. The UK is competiting with the rest of the industrialised world to develop low carbon industries and we can't be world beaters in every single one of them.
Second, the strategy should have set out a longer-term vision. Of course, government is not in a position to commit specific sums of money to specifc projects years in advance. But it could, and should, have made clear its intention to sustain support over time for key indsutries. In this regards, the industrial strategy is conspicuously lacking compared to the goverment's plans for reducing carbon emissions and increasing renewable energy. Whether or not one agrees with them, in these policy areas long-term plans (to 2020 and beyond) have been clearly set out and long-term policies put in place to achieve them.
In short, the Low Carbon Industrial exhibits a lack ambition. And the risk is that companies looking to invest in emerging green industries will gravitate towards countries with clearer long-term commitments.