The UK Government has published a Green Paper on Industrial Strategy, which identifies a number of challenges over the coming years, including: building on existing strengths and extending excellence into the future (with reference to the UK’s global reputation in industrial sectors – from automotive and aerospace to financial and professional services and the creative industries); ensuring that all areas of the country meets their potential by working to close the gap between our best performing companies, industries, places and people and those which are less productive; and to make the UK one of the most competitive places in the world to start or to grow a business. Consultation on the Strategy closes on 17 April 2017.
Press reaction to the Strategy has been mixed, with some commentating on the “biggest investment in transport, broadband and energy for a generation” and others referring to “faint praise”. Ten pillars to the Strategy have been identified, according to the Paper, because the evidence shows that they drive growth. The pillars include a number of references to technology, digital developments, science, research and innovation, all matters which have potential implications for environment, safety and health considerations.
Indeed, some of the pillars relate specifically to environmental strategies and compliance. The third ‘pillar’ of the Strategy concerns upgrading infrastructure, with particular reference to upgrading standards of performance on digital, energy, transport, water and flood defence infrastructure; and the seventh pillar concerns the delivery of “affordable energy and clean growth” set against the need to keep costs down for businesses, and secure the economic benefits of the transition to a low-carbon economy.
Furthermore, a focus on investing in science, research and new technologies (the first pillar of the Strategy) underlines the importance of and opportunities involved in the development of new and efficient materials, processes and products. The government intends to enter new ‘sector deals’ with investment in research and development to support the industries of the future where Britain has the potential to lead the world. This ranges from electric vehicles to biotech and quantum technologies, as reported in the government press release on the launch of the Strategy. Ministers have recently met with retailers and trade bodies to discuss the retail sector’s priorities and the Business Secretary has reported on that meeting. The government has also announced £229 million worth of investment in the development of cutting-edge advanced materials and a new centre of excellence for the life and physical sciences as part of the Strategy.
But technological developments can also pose challenges for environmental, safety and health compliance. New materials, processes and products may present different type of risks and businesses should evaluate potentially new or altered liabilities connected with those materials, processes and products, before they are rolled out (businesses may need to guard against problems with the implementation of such new technology). Such risks could include potential liabilities under strict product liability law in some jurisdictions; and under provisions in contractual documents. Consideration may need to be given to potential criminal liability, negligence claims, strict liability claims, contract clauses, choice of law provisions and risk management/mitigation strategies to protect the interests of a business globally. The advice of specialist lawyers and support of insurance companies are likely to be key to this protection.
Therefore, whatever the political reaction to the Strategy, the ten ‘pillars’ identified should send a message to those responsible for compliance in businesses located in, working with, or exporting to the UK, now or in the future, to focus on emerging opportunities, the associated risks and environmental challenges.