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Report says digital industrialisation could benefit the UK economy to the tune of £455bn

According to a new report Britain’s manufacturing sector could gain as much as £455bn if, over the next decade, it successful unlocks the benefits of the fourth industrial revolution deploying robotics, 3D printing and artificial intelligence.

The report, Made Smarter, chaired by Jürgen Maier, the UK and Ireland head of German engineering giant Siemens, was commissioned by the UK government to provide a review on industrial digitalisation.

While the report says that the UK economy would benefit by as much as £455billion over the next ten years from investment in digital technology, it also warned that the UK needed ‘greater ambition’ if it was to take advantage of the opportunities these technologies offer.

The report brought together executives from Rolls Royce, GKN and IBM as well small business representatives and academics from the universities of Cambridge and Newcastle.

According to the report a deal between government and industry could put Britain at the forefront of these new technologies, giving the economy a much needed productivity boost and is forecasting a net gain of 175,000 highly skilled, better paid jobs.

Maier said that while there would be considerable benefits, robotics and artificial intelligence would displace some jobs.

Speaking to the BBC he said that; "The best thing we can do is to make ourselves ready for it in a very proactive way and that means training our people... we need to up skill one million existing workers in the industrial and manufacturing sector... so they can transition from tasks that might be displaced to, for example, managing or programming robots."

The report proposes: more targeted support for companies, re-skilling workers, and a National Adoption Programme piloted in the north west; five digital research centres to improve innovation and capability and a national commission – Made Smarter UK Commission - to be charge of turning Britain into a global leader in industrial digital technologies and leading the ‘upskilling’ of one million industrial workers in the UK.

In response Innovate UK Chief Executive Ruth McKernan said: “This comprehensive review sets out practical recommendations around digital skills adoption, leadership and innovation. Maximising opportunities from industrial digitalisation massively boosts productivity and UK competitiveness. The innovation eco-system has a key role to play in delivering the ambition in this Review and Innovate UK stands ready to work with government and industry to drive forward the recommendations Juergen Maier sets out.”

The proposals were also backed by CBI director-general Carolyn Fairbairn, however she warned that the UK was facing intense international competition.

"The UK must compete with China, the USA and much of Europe where there are already advanced plans to embrace the fourth industrial revolution," she warned.

Sean Redmond, chief executive of software firm Vertizan and a contributor to the report, agreed saying that the UK needed to "catch up with international competitors".

"Smaller businesses that are growing at scale, especially industrial companies, need support learning about how digitalisation can help their business grow," he said.

Neil Tyler

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