The sound of silence: industry waiting by the phone for BIS call

Jon Excell

Amidst all of the mud-slinging, infighting and fundamental disagreement that has dominated UK political debate over the past few years our politicians have, it seems, agreed on one thing: the shape of Britain’s industrial policy.

Industry is waiting to hear from new Business Secretary Sajiv Javid MP
Industry is waiting to hear from new Business Secretary Sajiv Javid MP

Ever since Peter Mandelson (the last but one business secretary) called for “more real engineering and less financial engineering” and set in motion the reports that led to the creation, under the coalition, of the catapult centres, few have argued against the need to support the UK’s engineering and manufacturing base.

Indeed, it’s fair to say that the strong policy message and consistent support from BIS under the Coalition has been a major factor in industry’s success over the past few years. This is particularly true in the buoyant automotive sector, where the establishment of the automotive council stands out as an example of how dialogue between industry and government has improved.

Talking to The Engineer earlier this year at the launch of The Proving Factory (another government-supported initiative, this time aimed at bolstering the automotive supply chain) former business secretary Vince Cable, a popular and highly visible presence throughout industry over the past few years, was confident that a change of government would do little to damage this relationship.

However, fast-forward several months, and industry is apparently becoming increasingly anxious about the lack of contact from the newly appointed, and relatively unknown, business secretary Sajiv Javid.

It was a topic that loomed large at The Engineer Conference last week with many present, including High Value Manufacturing Catapult chief Dick Elsy and Proving factory boss Richard Bruges both expressing concern and mild surprise that they haven’t had a call yet.

Of course, it’s entirely reasonable for the new minister to want some time to take stock and to draw his own conclusions.  What’s more, his silence might be a good thing, a tacit acknowledgement that there’s nothing much that need fixing.

There’s also the possibility that industry is being a little needy. It’s been hard to avoid Vince Cable at times and perhaps we’ve become a little too used to his reassuring omnipresence. A less touchy-feely approach will naturally be a little unsettling at first.  

Nevertheless, whatever the reasons for the current silence form BIS, the longer it persists, the more a sense of limbo will set in, and the sooner industry knows exactly where it stands, the sooner it can form its own plans for the future.

The Engineer has asked the new business secretary for his comments on these issues. As soon as we hear back from him we’ll let you know.