It’s relatively cheap, and certainly politically correct, to provide government aid for start-up business and R&D projects. No-one can argue with the importance of high-tech businesses to the economy, nor to innovation, in the battle to rebuild British competitiveness. It also provides good photo-opportunities.
But giving a leg-up to more traditional industries is hugely expensive and, in the context of cool Britannia, deeply un-cool.
Industry, though, needs help. As well as the relatively small numbers of entrepreneurs starting up micro-companies, there are thousands of dedicated engineers working in R&D in the unfashionable so-called ‘heavy’ industries, bereft of any kind of government grants, but whose knowledge and innovation will have an equally important impact on Britain’s manufacturing expertise. Similarly, there are investments in new technology that could unlock productivity gains with a little government assistance. What could be better, for example, than 100% first-year capital allowances for small and medium sized enterprises?
Such moves could help British manufacturing to get into world-class shape with a world class supply chain. If we don’t achieve that, then desperate attempts to persuade overseas firms to keep investing here will become all too common.