Green Alliance launched the new Tech Task Force earlier this month at an evening reception addressed by Claire Perry MP and the members of the Task Force: HVM Catapult, Innovate UK, Gambica, Schneider Electric and Ramboll. With it, we are setting out to make sure digital technologies help to close the north-south divide and make the UK a greener and more prosperous place for everyone. That optimistic vision runs counter to recent headlines suggesting robots and artificial intelligence software will make us all obsolete.
We don’t deny that there are big changes in the world of work. We all might be doing very different jobs in 20 years. But, as every technological revolution has proved to date, releasing ourselves from one set of tasks invariably results in the invention of a whole new set of industries and jobs to keep us busy. However, the transition will be hard and there is a danger that places already feeling left behind will be the last to see the benefits of this technological revolution, if at all.
The UK has a major productivity problem. Productivity and wages haven’t grown since 2008; we also have the biggest regional productivity gaps in the OECD. Whatever your view of Brexit, the referendum highlighted that the economy wasn’t working for everybody. Any credible plan for growth now has to address the north-south divide and do it in a futureproof way. Jobs created need to be those that will still be around in the greener, more digital world to come. If we get it right, the digital revolution could add to the sum of human well-being and help us find ways to live on the planet sustainably.
The big question for the Tech Task Force is, if we think technology is a key to delivering clean growth and represents a big opportunity for the UK, how do we ensure it works for people in blue collar jobs who are concerned about how all this will affect them?
We need to look at productivity differently
Our answer is to look at productivity differently. It is not just about increasing the efficiency of labour by working people harder or replacing them with machines, it’s also about increasing the total value generated. A typical UK manufacturing business spends four times as much on materials, water and energy as they do on labour. Minimising the waste and maximising the value of those resources offers more potential to add to the bottom line and grow productivity.
The UK needs jobs in industries at the forefront of the smart management of energy and water, developing materials with a low carbon footprint, using those materials for longer and recovering them for use again in ways that satisfy a growing number people in a sustainable way.
The Tech Task Force will be investigating the ways to ensure digital technologies can deliver this and help to make the UK’s manufacturing, construction and infrastructure sectors more competitive. In short, we want to make the UK a hub for eco-innovation, a place where ambitious policy and the right rules encourage investment in digital technology for low carbon and resource efficient growth.
Opportunities across the country
And, because clean growth has to work for everyone, we are focusing on opportunities in the mobility, food, building and energy sectors which are either concentrated in the midlands, the north and the east coast, or which are spread right across the UK.
We will be starting in November, in the Midlands, discussing the opportunities for technology to enable efficiency in the design, production and use stage of the automotive value chain. We will be highlighting which rules are getting in the way, the policies that are not providing incentives for change and the gaps in regulation that mean new ideas that could bring environmental and social benefits aren’t being realised as fast as they could be.
It is always hard for policy to keep pace with technological change but that is especially true now, when politicians have their hands full with Brexit. The task force aims to help by identifying the policy solutions that can help accelerate uptake of the smart green tech that will benefit blue-collar workers now.
If you are a tech geek or a circular economy guru, we would like your help too. We are looking for original ideas. If you have a big idea for tech-enabled innovation in the automotive sector, get in touch with a brief outline. And if you would like to be involved in the first mobility event, please email me to register your interest. Ideas gathered will feed into our analysis and some will be showcased at the event in November.
We want the Tech Task Force to be the start of a big conversation on how we make a modern green economy work better for everyone.
The next Tech Task Force workshop will debate the policy solutions needed to promote smart, clean growth in the energy sector. It will take place in Bristol on Thursday, 11 July. If you would like to attend, register your interest here.