The government must come up with a blueprint for dealing with the challenges that automation and the move to a low-carbon economy pose for UK industry, says a report by the TUC.
The UK has an “appalling” track record on managing industrial change that benefits workers, customers, businesses and communities. But the sweeping changes that are likely over the next few decades must be treated as an opportunity to improve lives and “deliver better jobs”, according to the authors.
Union leaders at the TUC said without strong guidelines and action at a local level, communities in industrial cities and towns could suffer.
The report, based on research conducted by the New Economics Foundation thinktank, said the UK may be able to learn lessons from three places that had transformed themselves after going through difficult times: Bilbao in northern Spain, Eindhoven in Holland, and Iceland.
The government has already outlined plans for each part of the country to have a “local industrial strategy” by early 2020, though critics have claimed previous attempts to reinvigorate struggling towns following major factory closures have been unsatisfactory.
The TUC said these local strategies could play a vital role in ensuring a just transition to a green economy and making sure working people enjoy a fair share of the gains from the rise of automation.
Speaking ahead of the report’s launch, which will be attended by the Bank of England’s chief economist Andy Haldane, Alice Martin, a researcher at the thinktank, said: “Given the critical juncture we are at with climate change and accelerating automation, leaving impacts on UK jobs and industries to the whim of global market forces will only deepen existing divides and inequalities.
“It is important now more than ever that politicians take steps to understand the nuts and bolts of industrial change in practice, and how it can be shaped by the state, employers and unions representing the workers and communities affected.”
Haldane, who is also chair of the government’s industrial strategy commission, is expected to endorse much of the report, which recommends steps for national government, local government and employers to take that would enable local industrial strategies to be successful.
It said the core measure for success should be a supply of good-quality jobs, and that government, business and trade union representatives should sit on joint industrial strategy councils. Meanwhile, unions should have permanent places in local enterprise partnerships and on skills advisory boards.
Several car companies have announced plans to close factories or shift production elsewhere in recent months. Some of the issues have been blamed on Brexit, but the rise in demand for electric vehicles has also had a major impact.