‘Engineering the future of the UK – a vision for the future of UK engineering’ has been published by Engineering The Future, a body made up of the Engineering Council, Engineering UK, the Institution of Civil Engineers, the Institution of Chemical Engineers, the Institution of Engineering and Technology, the Institution of Mechanical Engineers, the Institute of Physics and the Royal Academy of Engineering.
This call for action is said to follow a joint letter from the presidents of the professional bodies urging the political parties to acknowledge engineering’s pivitol role in creating a new, broader economic base.
Skills, low-carbon technology, exploiting Britain’s science and engineering base, refocusing public spending and making better use of engineering advice in policy making have been identified as key policy priorities for the government.
Lord Browne of Madingley, president of the Royal Academy of Engineering, said: ‘Engineering solutions are deeply embedded in every area of economic activity in the UK.
‘Engineers will sit at the heart of efforts to rebuild a balanced economy based on a greater diversity of industries. Engineering solutions will also help to address the grand challenges facing society in the 21st century, including poverty, improved access to food and water, and combating climate change.’
The manifesto highlights five key policy priorities for government:
Sustaining and encouraging investment in the skills for the future:
The high-value, technology-based industries of the future demand a more scientifically literate society and a much greater proportion of school leavers with qualifications in science, technology, engineering and maths, as well as fully funded university engineering departments. With major skills shortages already clear in technician roles, there is also an urgent need to improve the supply of apprenticeships and relevant careers information in schools and colleges.
How to make the UK a leader in low-carbon technology:
Technology must make a major contribution to achieving the UK’s climate-change objectives (of an 80 per cent cut in CO2 emissions by 2050) and in doing so can rebuild sections of Britain’s manufacturing base. The current regulatory framework provides inadequate certainty for investment, especially with regard to the future price of carbon, and the government should adopt a more interventionist position, also with regard to research funding for low-carbon technology.
Ways of capitalising on the value of the UK science and engineering research base:
There is a vibrant research base in the UK that has benefited from public research funding in the last decade and provides a reserve of ideas, technology and intellectual property that can boost the country’s industrial base. Despite promising initiatives, transfer of knowledge into the private sector is too limited and R&D incentives in the private sector lag behind other major economies – this should be the focus of future government policy.
Harnessing the power of public spending to encourage innovation:
With a £220bn annual budget for goods and services, government is the largest customer in the country. Best-practice procurement would create the opportunity for more innovative solutions and give a better chance to small and medium-sized enterprises, who win only one in six central government contracts. As well as lowering costs for government, such reforms can harness innovation and ’pull’ emerging technologies into the wider economy - as seen in the US.
Making greater use of engineering advice in government policy making:
A recent House of Commons select committee report on engineering called for more effective engagement between policy makers and the engineering profession. This is especially important at early stages before policy direction is set. Greater recruitment of trained and experienced engineers into the civil service, as well as more systematic use of private-sector engineering expertise, would be valuable reforms.