25th, 26th June 2013: Aston Business School, Birmingham UK
“It’s the Economy, Stupid!” (Bill Clinton, 1992)
I attended the annual conference of the Chemical Industries Knowledge Transfer Network, a government-funded body with interest in promoting innovation and growth of the chemistry-using industries in the UK.
The head line was the launch of a strategy for this industry to regain the ground it feels it has lost to other manufacturing industries.
There is no doubt that the Chemicals and associated industries are a very important economic sector characterized by deep roots running through and enabling other sectors be all they can be; the aerospace, automobiles (30% of a car is comprised of “chemicals”), pharma, materials, energy, personal and home care and so on.
The industry has lacked a coherent message in and has struggled to secure government attention for R&D. For a long time, “the chemical industry has been too difficult to deal with”; according to government sources.
Ian Shott, entrepreneur, feels that chemistry is playing catch-up. Yet we may now be experiencing a mood swing in the public interest in science and technology – The “Cox Effect”. This is about to change, with the launch of a new strategy.
Keep the message simple is the intent of the CIKTN; that way every one can understand what you are trying to achieve.
So, the best support a GOV can give is to create a positive environment. It seeks to establish a Chemistry Growth Partnership to generate an additional £100bn gross value-added,
1. Secure competitive energy feedstocks, 2. Establish an Open-Access formulations centre, 3. Rebuild the hollowed-out UK chemical supply chain.
All to be underpinned by a response to climate change, engagement in trade, access to finance, balanced regulation, improved skills base and the right kind of government support. Put another way, Industry strategies… led by industry… for industry.
Michael Fallon MP spoke of the importance of “rebalancing the economy” by forcing the pendulum to swing back from the dominance of services. Innovation is seen as core-to-growth and that chemical engineering science is a critical element of that process. If you have been looking for words of comfort about what the GOV growth strategy actually is, perhaps it could be articulated in 5 elements,
1. Making the UK the most tax efficient in the G20.
2. Making the UK the best place for start-ups (UK is already No 1 in the EU for venture capital)
3. Building a flexible and well-educated workforce.
4. Encouraging export via investment.
5. Developing an industry strategy that is clear.
Greame Armstrong, Chair of the CIKTN underlines the industrial significance of the Chemical industry; One that generates £195bn GVA and the threads that run through many other sectors for their own success.
Carol Boyer-Spooner, CEO of CIKTN outlines the importance of CI projects, linking 7000 professionals through its _Connect network in with £241m of projects generating £1.35bn GVA from a core staff of only 20. In future a more programme-based approach to funding projects will add even more impact from the current ad-hoc, but planned, approach.
The Chemicals Strategy
It is through driving the three elements of 1. Smart Manufacturing Processes. 2. Utilising raw materials wisely and 3. Designing products for functionality that lies at the centre of the Chemicals Strategy.
One incarnation of this strategy is the current major interest in Formulations. This is likely to feature prominently in the High Value manufacturing Catapult and the new open access centre at the Centre of Process Innovation and Wilton from 2014.
Chemistry Innovation Annual Report 2012/2013, CIKTN
A Strategy for Innovation in the UK chemistry-using industries, CIKTN, June 2013