Stylistically, David Cameron is at his best when making speeches like the one he made today to the CBI . He plays the eager enthusiast for modernity rather well. When it is combined with praisng businesses and criticising bureaucracy, it’s pretty much a home fixture for him.
In substance, there is nothing in the Industrial policy proposals he put forward that I would argue is foolish, unnecessary or destructive.
That might sound like damning with faint praise, but that’s a pretty good standard to reach in any industrial policy speech, since it’s so easy to jump off into mercantilism, corporatism, beggar my neighbouring and sundry other sins.
So it’s actually quite a compliement, though sadly one that doesn’t apply when it comes to the government’s overall economic policy.
So let me be supportive for a bit.
Technology Innovation Centres are a good idea, and worth backing. I’m glad that we’re not slashing infrastructure spending.
A review into innovation is good too, though Labour’s Innovation Nation White paper was pretty good, and the Dyson review by the Tories, while decent, said little particularly new.
Disclosure – I’m a fan of encouraging innovative research in small businesses via a lottery for research vouchers, cutting out the bueracracy of deciding who gets what, which discourage Small Business.
I’ve also been convinced by ideas like expanding the Student Loans system to include vocational, part-time and day release education, to improve our skills and innovation base and build HE-Business links. I’m pretty convinced the government would like these things too. So I wonder how much more we need to review it again.
So, there’s a fair bit of decent stuff here*. Stripped of the unavoidable rhetoric that pretends it’s a huge break from the past, Cameron’s speech has the makings of a sensible continuation and refinement of the previous government’s Infrastucture, science and innovation policies.
Here’s the big but.
David Cameron began his speech with two big questions – “Where is the growth going to come from – where are the jobs going to come from?”
His speech was a decent answer to a totally different question.
The proposals Cameron discussed are nowhere near enough to deal with the scale of our needs. At a Conservative estimate, we’ll need to create some two million jobs over the next few years.
It is just not a big enough deal. The measures announced today, and the ideas put on the table for the future are decent, but they’re small.
This speech sets out some useful micro-interventions, but it is nothing compared to the big problem of the overall economic approach.
The big problem we have is high unemployment and low investment. (It’s worth reading Duncan Weldon’s post on this problem in the US, as it applies to Britain too) The government has decided we should complement that with lower public sector investment too.
We need to create around two million private sector jobs in the next five years. How?
Jobs and Growth are the two key issues the government faces.
So David Cameron asked the right questions today.
Unfortunately, The Prime Minister then spent the rest of the speech carefully not answering them.
That’s the problem.
*Though I find it odd that we have this argument about the need for a broadbased economy, when the business models that always get namechecked in these speeches are Skype, Facebook, Twitter, Google and Cisco. These are service industries, and mostly ones that survived a huge boom and bust cycle, when a huge number of firms got flooded with cash, and not all survived. I suppose you can point to Cisco’s router business, but that’s like pointing to the California Pickaxe and Panning Company as a model for post Gold rush businesses.