Electronics get serious

The Electronics Leadership Council is pulling together all sections of the industry to promote the technology, says Harry Tee.

I was delighted to be invited by the former industry minister, Alun Michael, to be the first chairman of the Electronics Leadership Council (ELC). I believe this work is important because electronics can make an increasingly significant contribution to the prosperity of this country.

It is a pervasive technology that underpins virtually every other sector of economic activity.

Over the past year I have been assembling and getting to know the group of senior industrialists and stakeholders that form the council. Together we have been pushing forward on several fronts to act on the key recommendations of the Electronics Innovation and Growth Team’s (EIGT) report and in promoting and raising the profile of our sector.

We agreed to set up individual work streams, each under the chairmanship of a council member, to address specific challenges.

The work streams are technology, skills, supply chain and public procurement and a particular emphasis was placed on working with the regional development agencies and similar bodies in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

To support this work the South East England Development Agency, which is the lead RDA in electronics, appointed a secondee to work with the ELC in promoting the electronics agenda throughout the country and to seek out and encourage best practice.

A major step forward was achieved through the establishment of the Regional Information Technology and Electronics (RITE) Group, which provides a forum for those driving policy at regional level to share experiences of electronics-related initiatives.

The range of types of companies, skills and specialisms that fall under the banner of electronics is wide and this presents difficulties when it comes to representing our interests with government and other key decision-makers.

Our sector, perhaps more than most others, has suffered badly from fragmentation and a lack of strategic networking in this respect.

This is not news to anyone who is familiar with the findings of the EIGT but that is why I believe the council’s efforts to achieve a greater cohesion among companies of all sizes and across all of our trade associations and professional bodies have been one of our most important activities so far.

The bringing together of the various trade associations representing different elements of the industry to form the UK Electronic Alliance (UKEA) has been a major success. Through this forum all the leading associations make their views known on all the key issues and now speak with one voice through the UKEA to all government agencies and departments. For the first time the fragmentation of the electronics industry has been halted and even reversed.

Everyone working in the electronics and technology area knows that the UK is facing a serious skills shortage.

The ELC supports the Electronics in Schools initiative and has been calling on the Department for Education and Skills to increase funding for it. The council supports the Royal Academy of Engineering’s Young Engineer Award Scheme but it also believes a great deal more has to be done to attract the talent our sector will require in the future and that industry has an important role to play in this.

The ELC supports the transition of the DTI’s Technology Strategy Board (TSB) to an independent, arm’s-length body and shares its vision of the UK being seen as a global leader in innovation. It also seeks to work closely with the TSB in defining the technology strategy and identifying areas of investment priority.

The ELC welcomes the increases in the science budget over the past decade and, more recently, the establishing of a number of knowledge transfer networks (KTNs), funded by the DTI, to accelerate the transfer of science and technology from research establishments into commercial enterprises.

These include KTNs on sensors, displays, photonics, electronically-enabled products and the recently announced Electronics KTN, the formation of which has been core to the ELC’s technology work stream strategy and which is to be chaired by David Kynaston, an ELC member.

The ELC has completed its first year of operations. The council was established to ‘make a visible difference’ following the recommendations of the EIGT report. Much ground has been prepared and some progress made but there remains much to do.

The second year of the ELC must become one of delivery and measurable progress if the council is to have any impact and any future.

Harry Tee is chairman of the Electronics Leadership Council, which was established to stimulate the UK electronics sector.