A game of catch up?

I was recently privileged to attend the lunch of the new All-Party Parliamentary Group on the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR). Founded and currently chaired by Conservative MP for Havant, Alan Mak, the APPG aims to support and promote the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) in Parliament, and encourage Government, Parliamentarians, academia, the private sector, and other stakeholders, to engage with 4IR-related issues.

With the Chancellor Philip Hammond as Guest of Honour, the event certainly conveyed the gravitas with which this hugely important development should be approached. And indeed, the positive and forward thinking attitude of all who spoke, along with the aims and objectives of the APPG must be praised.

There were, however, a few issues that I felt were rather conveniently avoided by all. The general message conveyed was that the UK is in a prime position to be at the forefront of the Fourth Industrial Revolution - and indeed, as one of the richest economies in the in the world, it is. However, when it comes to automation in the industrial sector (with some notable exceptions, for example automotive), the UK lags behind much of the developed world when it comes to investing in and implementing the latest technologies. If the UK is to lead Industry 4.0, this will have to change.

And then there’s the issue of whether the UK is already in a position of having to play catch up when it comes to I4.0. While there is undoubtedly a huge range of talented people in the UK working on/towards I4.0 associated technologies, it cannot be denied that many of the real trail blazers are already well-established, and that many of these companies and individuals are not in the UK! Indeed, I’ve had conversations with some in the industrial sector, who feel the UK has already missed the boat in terms of being at the fore of Industry 4.0.

In contrast, Germany is undoubtedly top of the pile when it comes to all things I4.0; indeed the German government was actually instrumental in coming up with the concept in the first place. Therefore, I was a little surprised when reading Alan Mak’s “Masters of the Revolution: Why the Fourth Industrial Revolution should be at the heart go Britain’s new Industrial Strategy” to note that both he and George Freeman, MP, were extolling the virtues of the UK no longer having to abide by “precautionary principle” post Brexit. While I appreciate this is all part of a bigger picture, Germany’s having to work in accordance with precautionary principle has by no means held the country back when it comes to I4.0. Therefore, I image that removing precautionary principle in the UK will make little or no difference to UK industry’s adoption and development of such enabled technology.

Of course, the launch of the APPG may not have been an appropriate time or place to consider these points. However, the fact does remain that such issues really do need to be addressed if the UK is to be competitive in an increasingly global economy.

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