An Economy that Works for Everyone

Greg Clark, the genial Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) had a half hour slot in which to set out his wares at the Conservative Party Conference 2016 this morning but despite – or perhaps because of – the breadth of his responsibilities, his comments were upbeat without giving any policy secrets away.

Greg Clark - Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS)

For about half of his time on stage, he delegated the task of speaking to two local businessmen and a locally-born representative of Airbus.  They gave their views on what would make a strong industrial strategy and that amounted to innovation and skills, themes that Mr Clark was happy to echo.

When he was at his lectern, it was a reminder that these party conferences are just that: conferences for the party faithful, not for the broader electorate.  There were nostalgic references to his father’s milk float underlining his – and the party’s – non-toff credentials.  There was a nod to big business ([I grew up] in the shadow of the great cooling towers of what was then ICI, and with the sky lit by the glow of the coke ovens of British Steel) and an even more fulsome appreciation of the entrepreneurs and small businesses to which Britain owed its business revival: 3 million new businesses created under the Conservatives over the past six years, generating £140 billion in taxes.  But the party pleaser was, of course, pure politics:

We shall never allow the Corbynistas to do to Britain what they’ve done to the Labour party

Greg Clark, Secretary of State for Business.

He did say that his government would put clean energy at the heart of Britain’s industrial future and also mentioned that he would like an upgrade in the “cleanness” of the country’s energy supplies but gave no detail as to which energies he favoured.  There is still debate as to whether nuclear power can be classified as a clean energy but most definitions allow for its inclusion and the BEIS Secretary’s words may leave the door open for the proposed plant at Bradwell, in Essex, to join Hinkley Point C as an approved ‘upgrade’ in the UK’s energy infrastructure.

Alternatively, the wind energy community might have been encouraged by the pointed overtures of friendship directed at Juergen Maier, UK CEO of Siemens, who was in the audience.  The German multinational was singled out for applause for its investments in the UK perhaps because the company has been an outspoken critic of Brexit, threatening to halt further investment in the UK [1]and, as recently as last Friday, asking for clarity on the UK’s future wind policy. [2]

Cynics might say that Mr Clark was wooing Siemens with his Business hat on, given the company’s 13 manufacturing operations and 14,000 employees here.  Environmentalists, on the other hand, will hope that he was in his Energy role and hinting at good things to come for renewables.

[1] The Guardian.  Siemens freezes new UK wind power investment following Brexit vote

[2] ReCharge.  Siemens leads calls for UK wind clarity post-Brexit