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The Rt Hon Greg Clark MP, the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, visited the University of Birmingham on 24 July 2017 with Andy Street, the Mayor of the West Midlands Combined Authority and his ministers, Claire Perry MP, Margo James MP and Lord Prior.
In a wide ranging speech (a transcript of which is here) he discussed
- the responses his department had received to the green paper Building our Industrial Strategy which the Prime Minister launched from Sci-Tech Daresbury on 22 Jan 2017 and I discussed in "Harnessing the Potential of the UK's Home Grown Inventors" - The Government's Proposed Industrial Strategy in my Inventors Club blog on 24 Jan 2017 and in Implementing the Industrial Strategy: IPO seeks new Business Support Policy Adviser on 25 Jan 2017 in IP North West;
- a strategy of investing in skills and infrastructure, and
- two new initiatives that lie in Dr Clark's energy portfolio: the Faraday Challenge to establish a "Battery Institute" in the UK and Upgrading OurEnergy SystemSmart Systemsand Flexibility Plan.
His remarks on Brexit were probably intended to be anodyne and they almost certainly were at the time he made them. Among the things he said was:
"People who voted for Brexit did not vote to be less prosperous."Since then we have had the results of a YouGov poll in which 61% of the sample who had voted to leave the EU thought that "significant damage to the British economy" was a price worth paying for bringing Britain out of EU. Some 39% of them believed that "causing you or members of your family to lose their job to be a price worth paying" (see Matthew Smith "The 'extremists' on both sides of the Brexit debate" 1 Aug 2017). An extraordinary statistic that one of Mr Clark's predecessor picked up in his article in the Mail Online on Sunday 6 Aug 2017).
Dr Clark also denied that "the vote for Brexit was part of a global move towards protectionism – for trading less, for retreating from the world." He emphasized the Prime Minister's approach "to be a global champion of free trade, is to want to increase the complex exchange of products and services between countries, not to aim for a sort of national self-sufficiency." I share that aspiration though it seems inconsistent with an insistence on controlling immigration thereby restricting the labour supply which is a crucial factor of production. Much will depend on the terms of any withdrawal agreement that we may reach with the remaining member states but crashing out of the Union without any kind of trade deal or even making one with our biggest and nearest trading partner on terms less favourable than those we enjoy now will make that objective harder to achieve, not easier.
Much less controversial was Dr Clark's announcement of the Faraday Challenge with an investment of £246 million into research, innovation and scale-up of battery technology. The project is explained in Simon Edmonds and Annie Wise's article The Faraday Challenge – part of the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund. The Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council ("EPSRC") has already invited proposals from UK university consortia to establish an internationally recognised virtual institute to lead in research, education and knowledge transfer. The objective of the institute is to ensure that the UK remains at the forefront of novel battery technologies which will underpin its ability to lead in the area of energy storage. The institute is intended to provide a national hub to promote research and its application to automotive and other technologies. The EPSRC's request for proposals is here together with an FAQ on the invitation. Only universities that attended a preliminary meeting on 12 July 2017 (a list of which is here) can lead a consortium but other universities can join the consortium at any time.
As is usually the case with projects of this kind, there are likely to be all sorts of legal issues such as the terms of the contract between the consortium members, the ownership of any inventions that may be produced, the terms of any licences, the disclosure of know-how and show-how and the resolution of any future disputes that may arise between consortium members and third parties. Anyone wishing to discuss those issues should call me on 020 7404 5252 or send me a message through my contact form.