SPRU - Science Policy Research Unit

SPRU Professors' work influences discussions on industrial strategy

Professor Mariana Mazzucato’s work is directly influencing discussions about industrial strategy as the UK Government sets out its economic agenda under Prime Minister Theresa May. 

Professor Mazzucato and Professor Jim Watson submitted joint written evidence to the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) Committee inquiry into industrial strategy on 3 October 2016. They wrote: 

Traditional approaches to industrial strategy have a sectoral or technology focus. We argue however that the best way for May’s government to achieve its economic vision is through a ‘mission-oriented’ approach that focuses on solving important societal challenges such as; climate change, youth unemployment, obesity, ageing and inequality. Such an approach would require many different sectors to interact with each other in new ways. If used to give direction to Britain’s economic growth path, this could generate innovation-led (smart) growth that is both inclusive and sustainable.”

The committee’s inquiry was launched following UK Prime Minister Theresa May’s decision to restructure the BEIS department, signalling her intention to pursue a more active industrial policy as part of her economic agenda. Professor Mazzucato was invited to give follow-up oral evidence at a Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) Committee meeting on Tuesday 22 November 2016.

Professor Mazzucato has also discussed her work in this area with the Rt Hon Greg Clark, Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, on 14 November 2016 – when she was invited to participate in two roundtables – and in a private meeting with Downing Street advisors.   

Prime Minister May gave additional details about her approach in a speech to the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) in advance of the Autumn Statement in which, making the case for public investment in R&D, she cited the story of the public funding behind the technology in the iPhone – evidence for which was first documented by Professor Mazzucato in her book, The Entrepreneurial State: debunking public vs. private sector myths

Prime Minister May announced, at the CBI Conference (21 November 2016), a commitment to an extra £2bn a year and an Industrial Strategy Challenge fund to back scientific R&D. She elaborated:

“Government can also step up to help drive innovative procurement, particularly from small businesses, just as the United States does so effectively. There, strategic use of government procurement not only spurs innovation in the public sector, it gives new firms a foot in the door. In fact, many of the technologies in your smartphone, from touchscreens to voice recognition, were originally commissioned not by Apple or Microsoft but by the US government.”

In an article for the Evening Standard, City Editor Anthony Hilton wrote:

“This idea is lifted not from a speech as such but from a book, The Entrepreneurial State: Debunking Private Vs Public Sector Myths.  It was written by Mariana Mazzucato, who holds a chair in economics and innovation at the Science Policy Research Unit at Sussex University. Her book even has a chapter heading that reads Back to Apple: What Did the US Government Get Back for its Investments?”

Hilton’s article also notes that Professor Mazzucato advised both former Labour Shadow Business Secretary Chuka Umunna, and former Science Minister David Willetts under the last administration.

Interviewed on Channel 4 news after the Prime Minister’s CBI speech, Professor Mazzucato responded to her announcement of increased R&D investment.

Writing in the Financial Times (August 2016), Professor Mazzucato made a strong argument for an industrial strategy that is mission-oriented rather than the sectoral approaches of the past:

“British Prime Minister Theresa May’s revival of industrial strategy is an opportunity to engage in the conversation again. Certainly, the concept of having such a strategy has not lost its power to shock... This time we need a real debate about the social missions that can drive public and private investment to claim the opportunities of the future.”

Professor Mazzucato was also invited to present her work to the LSE Growth Commission. Titled ‘Industrial Policy & Growth,’ the evidence session aimed to establish whether lessons from other countries can point to the principles that should underpin a modern industrial strategy.

She has since been a panellist on BBC Question Time (24 November 2016), where she further discussed the Autumn Statement’s commitment to R&D funding, among other topics.

She was also interviewed on BBC Radio 4 Today on 23 January 2017 (listen again here), in advance of the launch of Theresa May's industrial strategy green paper.

Further information

Read Professors’ Mariana Mazzucato and Jim Watson’s written evidence submitted to the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) inquiry into industrial strategy

Watch / Listen to a full recording of the BEIS Committee Industrial strategy meeting

Watch Professor Mazzucato on Question Time (24 November 2016)

Listen to Professor Mazzucato's BBC Radio 4 Today interview (23 January 2017)

Read Professor Mazzucato’s article in the Financial Times: ‘A strong industrial strategy has many benefits’

Read more about the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) Committee

Read more about the LSE Growth Commission