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Friday, September 14, 2012

A man with a plan

The New Statesman is not normally complmentary about Liberal Democrats but obviously they make an exception for Vince Cable. This article shows once again how we are making a difference in Government:

The difference between failure and success is the finance and structures that have allowed them to make the best of their individual talents so they could reach their maximum potential and become world-beaters.

This in a nutshell is what Vince Cable wants to do with business. He is bored with Britain having the talent, the inventors and the innovators, but then thinking it is virtuous to leave them to fend for themselves with no support so that too few of them become business gold medallists.

The lesson he draws from the Olympics is that success comes not simply from having talented people, nor from having what in essence was a publicly funded support system. Success  came from the skilled combination of the two, and he wants to foster a  similar ethos of long-term planning  and support for individual talent  to develop future generations of business winners. So yesterday, for the first time probably since Mrs Thatcher decided that Britain did not really need industry, we had a Business Secretary willing to lay out an industrial policy, and not being afraid to say that it was about picking winners.

He identified the essentials for success — the need for the right kind of finance, support for emerging technologies, a focus on and partnership with key sectors, a pipeline of skilled workers, and the use of government procurement as far as is possible to support these aims.

None of this is new — they have been doing it in the United States, Germany and much of the rest of the world for years. But it is new to us, indeed it is more than new. It is an astonishing sea change, given that a year ago it  was impossible for a minister even to utter the words industrial policy, let alone devote an entire speech to outlining one.

Goodness knows what they make of it on the Tory back benches, where the dominant strand of thinking is still that the role of the government is to get out of the way; that to get more houses built we should abolish planning regulations; that cutting red tape will cause a small-business revival and that all public spending other than for the defence of the realm is unnecessary and wasteful.

But it is probably close to the mood in the country. People make plans in their daily lives and think where they would like to be in a few years’ time. Businesses do likewise and in a lot more painstaking detail, often looking a decade or more ahead. Only in government is it seen to be a virtue to make it up as you go along, to have no plan that survives more than five minutes’ contact with reality, and no idea really where we are meant to be going.

The article concludes that Vince's initiative underlines the lack of long-term thinking elsewhere. Like the Welsh Government for example.
Hopefully Vince wins through and the UK adopts a more rational approach to Industrial Policy. The UK (and high quality job creation) sorely needs one. I remember graduating from Cardiff University with a degree in microbiology (with chemistry and biochemistry as my other two first year subjects) and floundering for several years trying to get a microbiology business off the ground.

With no experience of start-ups or how to raise capital; I was a kid of a large Caerphilly council estate.

What happened?

I worked my guts out doing night shift work at a large bakery in Cardiff and worked during the day to get a business off the ground. I came up with a modern microbiology solution to removing potential pathogens from human milk (In re human milk banks which used classic pasteurization which denatured secretory protective immunoglobulins and hence destroyed passive immune response passed onto babies from their mothers). My process worked at room temperature and maintained the passive immune function in donated human milk.

My lack of experience combined with minimum guidance from the Welsh Office and local government meant I had very little chance of success. I eventually gave up, got a Masters in biotechnology and a PhD from Glasgow University and moved to the States where I attended law school at night while working full time for a Chicago law firm specializing in technology law, and after getting my JD and passing the Bar started my own law firm specializing in technology law.

The first two patents that I drafted were for one of the largest agro-biotech companies in the USA, one of which was filed in some 30 countries and helped protect a major biotech business.

Would have been great to have gotten a microbiology business off the ground while in my 20s, but it was never to be. The support just wasn’t there.

Good luck Vince – the UK/Wales needs your ideas.

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