A strategic view

Is nothing better than industrial strategy? Former business secretary, Sir Vince Cable, charts the course of UK policy from backing no one to promoting potential.

Speaking the day after prime minister Teresa May unveiled her new industrial strategy, a London gathering of economists heard a former chief economist with petrochemical giant, Shell, offer his take on how major industry does strategy; how politicians have approached it; and how little has changed.

The former Shell man, Sir Vince Cable – better known as the man responsible for industrial strategy under the Coalition government – focused his presentation on those early moves towards a return to a planning regime that went beyond doing nothing.

First he recounted his time scenario planning for Shell for proposals that included investments of billions of pounds including a petrochemical complex in south China, Russian projects following the collapse of the Soviet Union, tar sands in Canada and offshore gas in Nigeria.
“These were big, big projects with a 50-year life.

“Government is very short term. If you can get anybody to think beyond five years you’re doing heroically well.”

“Of course if you’re trying to make a decision on big, long-term issues you’ve got to have a baseline. You’ve got to have planning assumptions provided you don’t believe in them and provided you will look at challenging scenarios. That’s how Shell did it and that’s how big companies do it.

“Government doesn’t do that to the best of my knowledge,” he said.

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