The Government’s plan to transform the UK into a science and technology superpower will fail to boost living standards unless it’s linked to a broader industrial strategy aimed at raising productivity across all sectors of the economy.

This is the central conclusion of a new CIPD discussion paper, An industrial strategy for the everyday economy, which says a bolder vision for economic growth, looking across all sectors and areas of the economy, is needed considering the multiple challenges facing the UK.

These challenges include:

  • skills and labour shortages
  • stalled productivity and real wage growth
  • endemically weak business investment in skills and technology  

In response, the CIPD, the professional body for HR and people development, is calling for development of a comprehensive industrial strategy that supports and encourages more firms across all sectors to invest in the technology, skills development and management capability needed to improve job quality and raise productivity.

The paper notes that the Government’s primary focus on boosting investment in research and development (R&D) and high-tech and green growth sectors, though important to the overall economy in the long term, will only support relatively small sectors and limited numbers of firms. For example, it highlights that 75% of private R&D spend in the UK takes place in just 400 firms and that of the three million active UK firms, just 60,000 claim R&D tax credits.

This narrow focus does not address the critical importance of improving productivity growth in ‘everyday economy’ sectors such as retail, hospitality, transport, logistics and social care which account for at least 40% of employment*.

The paper argues that a different approach is needed to improve performance in these sectors through boosting incremental, ‘bottom-up’ workplace innovation which can enhance products and services and productivity across much broader swathes of the economy.

This approach to innovation is key to the successful adoption of new technologies and is supported by improvements to work organisation, skills development and changes to people management capability and practices. Broader adoption of these key people practices can also improve job quality, support people’s wellbeing and widen labour market participation to tackle skill and labour shortages.

Peter Cheese, chief executive of the CIPD, the professional body for HR and people development, comments:

“The UK is at a critical crossroads. As this discussion paper suggests, we urgently need a broader approach to economic growth and a revitalised industrial strategy if we’re to address the challenges we face as a nation.

“Unless policymakers can encourage and enable many more firms across all sectors to invest more in technology, management capability and workforce skills development, it’s hard to see how overall UK productivity and therefore, living standards, can improve sustainably.

“We need changes to a range of linked policy areas including skills, innovation, investment in digital technologies, green transition, business support and labour market enforcement, which collectively affect the business environment and firms’ management capability and investment behaviour.”

Baroness Ruby McGregor-Smith, CIPD President, adds:

“It’s clear that the UK needs a new long-term vision for how we are going to drive sustainable and inclusive economic growth and prosperity across all parts of the economy and nation.

“While it’s important to build on the UK’s strengths in science and technology, and to increase investment in R&D and key infrastructure, this must be accompanied by a strategy and policies to boost productivity across all sectors.”

The CIPD’s recommendations include:

  • Developing a bold, broad industrial strategy that integrates interdependent areas of policy such as skills, job quality, workplace innovation, business support, digital adoption and green transition.
  • Learning from best practice approaches toward business support and improvement, from overseas and from small-scale interventions already run in the UK.
  • Building on the range of pilots to test and scale-up effective approaches to improving management capability and business performance at local and sectoral levels. For example, building on insights from CIPD’s HR support pilots for small firms, Be the Business and Help to Grow Management.
  • Developing coherent industry level and local employer partnerships to boost adoption of technology and best practice people management and development practices across ‘everyday economy’ sectors and all regions.
  • Transforming labour market enforcement with a much stronger focus on supporting employer compliance and raising employment standards overall, given the link between job quality and productivity.

Read the paper

Notes to editors

  • An industrial strategy for the everyday economy was written by Professor Ewart Keep, who has previously advised the UK Government and The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) on skills policy and the link to economic performance.
  • *Figure from: The everyday economy: Why it matters and how to rebuild it, London: LSE. Reeves, R., Tomaney, J. and Williams, K., 2019.

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