First Local Industrial Strategy Draft Released

The Oxfordshire Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) have released their Working Draft Local Industrial Strategy (LIS) for Discussions with Government, making them the first out of the blocks. 

Unsurprisingly there is a strong focus on innovation and the importance of drawing on the world-leading higher level skills that are present in the area in order to increase productivity in the region. 

The LEP set out some extremely ambitious targets, including doubling the size of the Oxfordshire economy by 2040, delivering a minimum of 2% growth in productivity, creating a minimum of 108000 net new private sector jobs and delivering £4 of benefit to the UK for every £1 invested into Oxfordshire. 

The plan to support and achieve these impressive targets is set on four key pillars: 'A globally connected and competitive innovation economy', 'a powerhouse for commercialising transformative technologies', 'living laboratory solving the UK's Grand Challenges' and 'A skills system creating opportunities at every stage of life'.

Whilst all of these targets could be supported by, and the pillars align with, manufacturing, the word itself is only mentioned once in the entire strategy and is caged in the terms of how innovation within Oxfordshire would '...deliver an uplift in wider UK manufacturing and supply chain opportunities'.

Whilst no one expects all regions to prioritise manufacturing regardless of local strengths, it seems strange not to consider how the world leading academic sector in Oxfordshire could work directly with the highest spending sector when it comes to R&D (69%), and when the strategy puts a focus on the commercialisation of ideas.

Deloitte found in the Power Up: UK-Wide Growth report that one of the most productive sectors in the South East is manufacturing, and the Oxford LEP's own Economic Baseline Analysis - upon which the LIS is based - found that Manufacturing is the third largest sector in a number of areas of the region, accounts for some of the largest turnover companies and employs over 24000 people.

Also in the Economic Baseline Analysis, four key areas which will be key to UK-wide growth are highlighted: Autonomous vehicles, digital health, space-led data applications and technologies underpinning quantum computing, all of which barring the last find manufacturing as a key component of the sector. However, this is not reflected in the strategy itself, where manufacturing is not mentioned in reference to any of the areas.

Another key tenet of the strategy is to improve the skills provision for the general population. Whilst Oxford has a highly skilled workforce at the higher levels (6 and above) there is a distinct shortage of school leavers with STEM skills, and apprenticeship starts sit at around a quarter of the national average. When considered alongside the size of the sector as noted above, and a CBI survey which found that more than half of Oxfordshire businesses are calling for more STEM apprenticeships, it is surprising that manufacturing is not mentioned again in this section either. 

The strong focus on innovation is excellent to see, and will undoubtedly result in growth in manufacturing, but given that and the other clear synergies with the existing manufacturing base as noted above, it would be good to see more direct mentions in the final strategy. 

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