Prescription for growth

When your house is hit by a hurricane, the priority is stopping the roof from coming off rather than planning an extension.

Understandably, the minds of many engineering and technology companies are now focused on staying in business rather than opportunities way down the line.

Without minimising the turmoil of today, however, it is worthwhile (and possibly therapeutic) to try to imagine what tomorrow’s landscape might look like.

The global economy will eventually (and hopefully sooner rather than later) begin to recover.

At some stage the UK will need to work out the role it wants to play in what will be a different world, and the sooner that planning process begins the better.

Where will the opportunities lie for our engineering and technology base, and will it be fit to seize them?

Amid the commercial and financial chaos of the past year some things haven’t changed. When the dust settles, the need for cleaner, more efficient ways to produce and consume energy will remain and, if anything, intensify.

Even if you leave aside the urgent warnings of the climate change scientists, the case for innovation in energy is overwhelming, whether on grounds of lowering cost or increasing security of supply.

Where else can we find a growing and voracious market for technical innovation, credit crunch or no credit crunch? The answer is pretty close to home. It is all of us, and more precisely our healthcare needs, which is one of the reasons The Engineer believes this latest in its regular series of themed issues is more significant than ever at a time of economic uncertainty.

The world’s population will continue to grow and – for those lucky enough to live in advanced economies – grow older. Without technical innovation, healthcare systems will simply be overwhelmed by these demands.

The medical technologies discussed in this issue are setting the pace in their fields, and it is highly promising that so much work in healthcare innovation is taking place in the UK.

That innovation, along with the expertise and facilities that underpin it, should be jealously guarded during the current turmoil. Healthcare technology should be a national priority with a similar status to energy and the environment.

This is in no way to downgrade the importance of the UK’s traditional strengths in other areas — aerospace and automotive design, for example. All need as much help as possible to play their parts in the new economic order.

If we are looking for candidates to plug the gap left by the crumbling edifices of the financial sector, however, emerging from a global downturn with a world-class technology base in healthcare, energy and the environment could be the foundation for not just revival, but sustainable growth.

Andrew Lee, editor