24 May 2010

How will BIS fare when Government cuts come?

"My department will be the department for growth. We need to develop a stronger, more balanced economy that is less dependent on the City by building on the strengths of our manufacturing and knowledge industries." Strong words from Vince Cable, the new business secretary. But how easy will it be for him to deliver on that statement?

The Department of Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) is one of the biggest spending Government departments; much of its work is related to funding for projects aimed at developing various parts of the economy so they can be competitive – or even world leaders – in the future.
With the Government embarking on a programme of spending reduction, BIS can expect to see its budget reduced seriously. It's rumoured to be losing £700million from its budget as part of the initial cuts to be announced shortly and civil servants are probably even now looking at how to work with substantially less cash in the future. The Queen's Speech will also give some indication of where BIS stands in the departmental pecking order.
Cable is on the record as a believer that we should be doing fewer things well, rather than many things badly. Perhaps he will apply that thinking to BIS. But how will he measure which projects are doing well?
Meanwhile, Prime Minister David Cameron has loaded the dice by announcing that he expects 'great things' from BIS – more accurately, great things from its people.
The agenda of BIS' 'previous management' was to fund organisations such as the Technology Strategy Board (TSB) and its Knowledge Transfer Networks in order to create an environment in which future industries might flourish; developing what could be seen as 'coalitions' between university researchers, product developers and the like.
Could the TSB be under threat? If the UK is to strengthen its manufacturing and knowledge industries, it needs to continue to invest in them, not make swinging cuts in BIS' budgets.

Author
Graham Pitcher

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