Words and vision will not help industry now

John Battle’s performance at the launch of the next round of the Foresight programme had a familiar ring to it. The industry minister’s story about putting all the Foresight reports on his desk last May and looking for synergies, for example. And his comment about the flag flying on top of the Department of Trade […]

John Battle’s performance at the launch of the next round of the Foresight programme had a familiar ring to it. The industry minister’s story about putting all the Foresight reports on his desk last May and looking for synergies, for example. And his comment about the flag flying on top of the Department of Trade and Industry: if that flag had a word written on it, he said, that word should be competitiveness. Then there was the bit about his desire to get high quality thinking in action innovative technology, sparky brains. That too sounded familiar.

In fact, he said all these things and used almost those exact words last October in an interview with The Engineer. We heard him say it again at the Industrialists’ Summit at Manufacturing Week at the NEC. And we heard it again this week.

Battle gives a good impression of a man of boundless enthusiasm with a passion for industry, science and technology. He is also a man of vision. As he said at the Foresight launch, he wants industry to address the challenges of the next century, ‘rather than struggling with the fag-end of this one’.

But that’s the problem. For most of British industry, dealing with the commercial realities of the present is more pressing than getting involved in pre-competitive research and scenario-building of the Foresight programme even if we all accept that these activities are indeed vital to our future competitiveness.