Photographer: Simon Dawson/Bloomberg

May Prizes Technical Education in U.K. Productivity Drive

  • Premier plows 170 million pounds into technology institutes
  • Government to announce new industrial strategy on Monday

U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May will plow 170 million pounds ($210 million) into setting up new technology institutes, placing scientific education at the heart of her drive to boost Britain’s productivity through a new industrial strategy unparalleled since the 1980s.

The institutes will specialize in teaching science, technology, engineering and math, providing high-school graduates with the skills demanded by local employers, May’s office said Saturday in an e-mailed statement. The prime minister also aims to boost teaching of those subjects in universities, as well as math in high schools, as part of a “modern industrial strategy” that she described as “a critical part of our plan for post-Brexit Britain.”

“It is a vital step towards building a country where prosperity is shared and there is genuine opportunity for all,” May said in the statement. “Our action will help ensure young people develop the skills they need to do the high-paid, high-skilled jobs of the future. That means boosting technical education and ensuring we extend the same opportunity and respect we give university graduates to those people who pursue technical routes.”

May has placed the industrial strategy at the heart of her effort to define her government beyond Britain’s withdrawal from the European Union. The plan, to be published on Monday and subject to a public consultation, aims to draw together policy on transport, education, telecommunications, energy and construction to ensure businesses nationwide have the skills, links and supply chains needed to expand and diversify into new and growing industries such as renewable energy and robotics.

Brexit Talks

The strategy is “about the economy of the future, it’s about ensuring that business can grow and is encouraged to grow in the U.K.,” May said on Thursday in a television interview with Bloomberg News Editor-in-Chief John Micklethwait. “It’s also about ensuring that the benefits of prosperity are available across the whole country, we see that economic growth and prosperity for everyone.”

May’s focus on technical education is likely to please businesses. A survey of 800 members of the Institute of Directors, a business lobbying group, released on Saturday found that their top policy priority is a long-term skills strategy, with three-quarters of companies saying it’s “very important.” Infrastructure improvements and better broadband were their second and third choices.

May signaled on Tuesday that she aims to pull Britain out of the EU’s single market and customs union as part of two years of divorce talks she says she’ll officially trigger by the end of March. The industrial plan and the stated desire to forge new trade deals with countries from the U.S. to China are part of government efforts to demonstrate Britain is open for business and investment, even as it cuts ties with its closest neighbors.

Thatcher’s Days

Chancellor of the Exchequer Philip Hammond has already outlined spending on roads and broadband as well as a 23 billion-pound National Productivity Fund designed to spur growth. The nation’s economic output per hour has effectively stagnated for a decade, only returning to its pre-recession levels in October.

Britain hasn’t had an explicit industrial strategy of the kind envisaged by May since Margaret Thatcher, the country’s only previous woman prime minister, was in power in the 1980s. When she stood for leadership in July, May said her aim was to create “a proper industrial strategy to get the whole economy firing.” One of her first acts as leader was to unite the business and energy departments and rename the new ministry the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy.

“It is about making our country one of the most competitive places in the world to start and grow a business,” Business Secretary Greg Clark said in the statement. “We want to build on the U.K.’s significant strengths and excellence to shape our future economy.”

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