Local MP Alan Mak calls for new Future Skills Review in Spring Budget 2017 debate

Local MP Alan Mak has spoken in the House of Commons debate on the Spring Budget 2017 which was presented by the Chancellor on Wednesday 8 March, which Alan attended. 

In his speech, Alan praised the Government's announcement that an extra £500M per year will be invested in technical education, and new "T-Levels" would be introduced. He also called on the Government to go further and launch a new Future Skills Review (FSR).

Alan said that in order to equip Britain to lead the Fourth Industrial Revolution, we need fully to understand the implications of automation, robotics, and other new technologies on our labour force, economy and skills base. Our approach must be strategic and long term. A FSR would be a detailed review of the nation’s skills base and future skills needs to be conducted at the start of every Parliament.

Just as the Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR) examines the country’s long-term security needs, and just as the Comprehensive Spending Review (CSR) sets out the the country’s long-term spending priorities, so a new national future skills review will help us to futureproof our economy and skills base. ​That future skills review would look above the horizon and examine our long-term skills needs. It would also identify the sectors and industries that are vulnerable to automation, and the opportunities for new technology to help drive economic growth. The review would give us valuable data to identify skills gaps, inform national policy making and help educational institutions to plan for the future, particularly to meet the needs of employers.

Mr Mak said, "I welcome the £500 million of new funding for technical skills and the introduction of T-levels. Those measures will upskill the workforce, build an economy that works for everybody and, ultimately, boost productivity. They will prepare British workers to succeed in the economy of the future, which will be underpinned by the Fourth Industrial Revolution. These measures build on the Government’s strong track record in education and skills generally, from the new university technical colleges to the 2.9 million apprenticeship starts since 2010."

He added, "Mastering and leading the Fourth Industrial Revolution must begin with closing the skills gap, so that Britain’s workers are equipped to take up those new jobs. A first step is investing in skills, fully understanding the challenge of automation, and responding decisively and strategically through a new Future Skills Review and new investment. Those are the steps that will get Britain to the future first."

A full transcript of Alan's speech can be found via this link - and is reproduced in full below. 

Further information about the Spring Budget 2017 can be found here

Alan has also written an article for the Daily Telegraph about his idea for a Future Skills Review: "Here's how Britain can win in the age of robot workers"

 

Photo: Alan Mak MP speaking in the House of Commons debate on the Spring Budget 2017

 

Full transcript of Alan's speech:

 

It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Wolverhampton South West (Rob Marris). I am pleased to speak in support of today’s Budget. It puts Britain in a strong position as we leave the European Union, and it positions Britain and areas like Havant to take advantage of the fourth industrial revolution, as new technologies transform economies and societies around the world, including our own.

 

I welcome the fact that the Budget is given against the backdrop of an economy that has shown itself to be extremely resilient, confounding expectations by performing strongly in 2016. Britain is one of the world’s fastest growing advanced economies, the deficit has been cut by more than two thirds, the growth forecast is up and there is record employment, with 2.7 million more people in employment than in 2010. This Budget builds on the huge progress and strength in the economy that this Government have delivered.​

 

I welcome the £500 million of new funding for technical skills and the introduction of T-levels. Those measures will upskill the workforce, build an economy that works for everybody and, ultimately, boost productivity. They will prepare British workers to succeed in the economy of the future, which will be underpinned by the fourth industrial revolution. Of course, all those measures build on the Government’s strong track record in education and skills generally, from the new university technical colleges to the 2.9 million apprenticeship starts since 2010.

 

The new £500 million of funding is particularly necessary, given the impact of automation on the labour market. I will focus on that point for the rest of my speech. Historically, the impact of automation has largely been felt in blue collar industries, such as manufacturing and mining, that involve repetitive tasks. As we enter the fourth industrial revolution, which is characterised by increasingly capable automation, artificial intelligence and sophisticated robotics, jobs in a vast array of services will be affected.

 

We must not be Luddite or downbeat about that development. The emerging technologies that are part of the fourth industrial revolution can be harnessed to catalyse economic growth and generate long-term prosperity. Today’s Budget will help us to do that. In Britain, we have to be the first to seize this opportunity. That means taking a proactive, high-investment approach to the challenge of automation. This Budget will help us to do that.

 

The Bank of England has estimated that up to 15 million British jobs may be at risk of automation, suggesting profound structural changes in the nature of our labour market in the decades ahead in this new industrial age. The potential job losses are largely in roles where a pattern of work can be replicated by a clever algorithm, a ready supply of data or a ready supply of energy. That led Professor Mary Cummings, the director of Duke University’s humans and autonomy lab, to say, paradoxically, that

 

“the more certainty your job entails the more likely is to be automated out”.

 

However, Britain has cause to be optimistic because of the measures announced in the Budget.

 

From the printing press to the personal computer, and now to the advent of artificial intelligence, driverless cars, 3D printing, robotics and advanced manufacturing that we see today, Britain’s economic history has been a continuous story of technology substituting for human labour across all sectors of our economy, as increasingly sophisticated machines displace workers at a fraction of the cost. From farm automation to the big bang in the City, we have always embraced technology. That technological progress has also led to rising productivity gains, as new jobs are created in new industries. If we want the words “invented in Britain”, “manufactured in Britain” and “designed in Britain” to be our hallmark in the 21st century, we have to continue investing in skills and technical education. That is what this Budget does.

 

The answer to what John Maynard Keynes called “technological unemployment” has always been the same. Today’s Budget reaffirms our answer as a Conservative party: we have to embrace the efficiencies brought by ​innovation; we have to reach for the future; and we have to help people learn new skills, so that they can take up the jobs created by economic growth.

 

I think that John Maynard Keynes’s economic theory is now largely discredited. As Conservatives, we prefer a pro-innovation, free-market, low-tax economy that helps entrepreneurs and businesses to grow. As we enter the fourth industrial revolution, our job is not to hold things back and yearn for the past, but to reach for the future. That is what investing in skills and T-levels will do. That is why I am so pleased that the Government have decided to invest in T-levels and in streamlining the 15,000 courses down to just 15 routes that are linked to the needs of employers in a modern economy. I prefer Adam Smith to John Maynard Keynes. He is much more relevant to the modern economy that we want to build in this country, and he was a Scotsman.

As we move to a more automated digital economy based on the free market and innovation, the supply of workers with science, technology, engineering and maths skills—STEM skills—will be critical to Britain’s ability to compete in the world, harness the fourth industrial revolution to our benefit and project an image to the world as we leave the European Union of a bold, confident and technologically enabled modern country. The Budget helps because it helps our skills base to get fit for the future.

 

As we leave the EU, develop a new industrial strategy and adopt an outward-looking global trade policy, we must continue investing in skills and reforming our education system to ensure that people have the right skills to succeed in future. As we do that, we will build on a position of tremendous strength. We have world-class universities, sixth forms and further education colleges, including South Downs in my constituency; a strong base of scientific research; and an extra 1.8 million children going to good or outstanding schools since 2010.

 

We build on very strong foundations, but to equip Britain to lead the fourth industrial revolution, we need fully to understand its implications on our labour force and skills base. Our approach must therefore be strategic and long term. I hope that Ministers in the Treasury and other Departments, including in the Department for Work and Pensions, will consider my proposals for a detailed review of the nation’s skills base to be conducted at the start of every Parliament—a future skills review backed by the Treasury. I hope that my hon. Friend the Financial Secretary considers that as a representation for the next Budget.

 

Just as the strategic defence and security review examines the country’s long-term security needs, and just as the comprehensive spending review sets out our long-term spending priorities, so a new national future skills review will help us to futureproof our economy and skills base. ​That future skills review will look above the horizon and examine our long-term skills needs. It will also identify the sectors and industries that are vulnerable to automation, and the opportunities for new technology to help drive economic growth. The review would give us valuable data to identify skills gaps, inform national policy making and help educational institutions to plan for the future, particularly to meet the needs of employers.

 

In the long term, a new wave of jobs will be created by businesses harnessing the power of the fourth industrial revolution. They will harness that power to expand and provide new jobs and products, from British-made 3D printers to British-designed driverless cars. Mastering and leading the fourth industrial revolution must begin with closing the skills gap, so that Britain’s workers are equipped to take up those new jobs. A first step is investing in skills, fully understanding the challenge of automation, and responding decisively and strategically through a skills review and new investment. Those are the steps that will get Britain to the future first.

 

I invite right hon. and hon. Members with an interest to the launch of the new all-party group on the fourth industrial revolution on 20 March, where the Chancellor will speak from the platform about how the Government are committed to helping to deliver an economy fit for the future. In the meantime, I am proud to support the Budget and will be delighted to support the Finance Bill as it progresses through the House because it helps Britain to futureproof its economy and improve its skills base.