Engineering is critically important to solve some of the biggest issues the country faces
Speaking at an event at Labour Connected, Shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury, Bridget Phillipson MP, said that engineering is a “good metaphor” for how the government ought to be using public spending to shape the economy and society for the future.
The event at Labour Connected, titled: Engineering Priorities for the Spending Review, was brought together by The National Engineering Policy Centre, EngineeringUK, the Institution of Civil Engineers, the Institution of Engineering and Technology and the Royal Academy of Engineering.
Bridget Phillipson MP said that engineering is a “good metaphor” for how the government ought to be using public spending to shape the economy and society for the future.
The MP for Houghton and Sunderland South called for a “recovery that works for everyone” emphasising that targeting net-zero and alleviating poverty were central to the recovery.
“We need to make sure that we see progress towards net-zero progress for a more sustainable economy and progress towards a country where no child grows up in poverty,” she explained.
Faith Wainwright from the Royal Academy of Engineering said it was “vital” that politicians of all parties seek engineering advice in developing their policies to improve our society and strengthen our economy.
“Engineering is critically important to solve some of the biggest issues the country faces,” she said.
She continued: “The depth and breadth of engineering expertise across the UK is at the forefront of creating a sustainable society and an inclusive economy that works for everyone,” she explained.
Dr Simon Harrison, Vice President, Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET) was keen to emphasise the “huge contributions” engineering can make across the economy, from developing major built infrastructure, to home healthcare technology,
The panel were in agreement that the net-zero target was a crucial objective in the recovery.
“Net-zero is truly critical,” said Dr Harrison.
“As engineers we know it can be delivered given enough energy and resources, but it needs a different scale of commitment to what we're seeing at the moment. It needs a different level of prioritisation and leadership, it needs cross Whitehall delivery,” he explained.
“In parts of the country where people want an opportunity to go back into education and skills training, the hollowing out of further education has made that harder,”
Skills and diversity
The panel discussed how the UK’s ambitions on net-zero are threatened by an ongoing crisis in the number and diversity of people with engineering and technical skills available to deliver them.
“In parts of the country where people want an opportunity to go back into education and skills training, the hollowing out of further education has made that harder,” said Bridget Phillipson MP.
“We've seen the spending on skills training falling, again and again. That I think has had an impact.”
She spoke of the need to provide people with skills in future-proofed sectors “to support the creation of those jobs of the future in the green economy.”
Faith Wainwright emphasised that ensuring people were equipped with new skills was at the heart of delivering a net-zero agenda.
Dr Hilary Leevers, Chief Executive, EngineeringUK said that it was “critical” to make sure that we have the right number and the diversity of people we need with engineering and technical skills.
“There are still skill shortages, we hear from employers that they're still struggling to recruit at these times.
In regard to the impact of the pandemic, Dr Leevers said there was a need to make sure that the generation hit hardest by the pandemic “doesn't miss out” on employment, education and opportunities in engineering.
The panel discussed how the ability to achieve net-zero is dependent on a resilient infrastructure system.
Faith Wainwright described how engineers put research into practice. For example, through developing low carbon technologies to fight climate change and creating resilient infrastructure.
Blessing Danha, Member of the ICE council and Manager (Major Projects Advisory) at KPMG said that the current crisis also points “shifting priorities”, namely a focus towards accelerating net-zero and digital connectivity.
She said that the Spending Review marked a “good market turning point” in how the UK’s infrastructure systems respond and contribute to economic growth.
“Despite the crisis, there is a need for infrastructure investment, to kickstart the economy,” she explained.
“Infrastructure is a key engine of economic growth,” said Dr Simon Harrison, concluding that, “we have to focus on creating the right infrastructure for the UK that we want to have in the future.”