Why science and engineering is important to the UK

I have an article here, reproduced below:

It ought to be a no-brainer, a question about the importance of science and engineering to the United Kingdom. In my job, as an information technology professional, I get a glimpse at the importance of science and technology.

In my, thus far, thirty-eight year long working life I have witnessed huge changes in how we work, and what we work with. I have also seen the UK’s industrial base change, and now we are far more dependent on service industries. It is clear, though, that we were a market leader in the science and engineering sectors, and we still are. The challenge ahead is to keep Britain important.

The twenty-first century is already seeing significant changes and challenges. Whilst the old order of Western Europe and North America is still very important, Asian and South American economies are rising. To meet the challenges that are presented by the likes of China, India, Japan, Brazil, Russia, etc, the UK has got to make sure its workforce has the skills and is able to meet the challenges that lie ahead. Education is key.

Business also has to acknowledge the simple maxim of adapt and survive. This means that education does not cease with the first job, but should be an ongoing thing – and employers should encourage training. Research into new technologies, which could mean new ways of doing old things, or it could mean new opportunities, must be encouraged – and Government can help here. Research without development, though, is effectively useless.

I liked it when the last Labour Government made policy to encourage more of our young into universities. I like it not that the current Government is making university a less attractive proposition. I also think that the education system must provide confidence in its examination system – employers must know the qualifications equate to ability and learning.

But it is not just about getting the numbers up at universities and further education establishments – I would hope that science and engineering courses would see a rise in popularity, and a more even gender balance. Women, so it seems to me, are for one reason or another enrolling in these courses in far fewer numbers than men. It is also true of my industry, computing, that the ratio of men to women is very unhealthy.

I am not a scientist, I am not even someone who reads much about science. It was not always the case. In a recent interview I was asked about my earliest favourite subjects at school. I answered that it was astronomy and palaeontology. I cannot adequately explain why I did not stick with them, or other sciences, but in part it must be down to the schooling that I had that did little to encourage here. I suspect, no I know, that the schools of today are unrecognisable from what I experienced in the 1960s and 1970s. The future must see similar levels of evolution in how we teach, what we teach, and the subjects we teach.

I am no crystal ball gazer, but it does not require prescience to see that the technological revolution has a long way to go, and that this revolution has happened because of advances in science and engineering. Britain has to remain at the vanguard, or it will see the effects in lowering relative prosperity. The internet and communications are shrinking our world and making changes in every facet of life.

We also have a future that has to address the issues of climate change. My belief is that new technologies, new green technologies, will become ever more important. This is an opportunity for a small island nation that clearly will be affected by rising tides (for example) to lead the way. Energy is another area that has got to see technology create new sources, or the lights really will go out.

Science and engineering matter in their own right; they also matter to the UK. For Britain to remain competitive and relevant, and for this to translate into prosperity, we need new scientists and new engineers emerging from our education system, and we need employment opportunities for them to take up.

The Tories will raise VAT. Again. Labour won’t.

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Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership

The Labour Party supports trade agreements which can bring significant benefits through boosting trade and growth, securing and creating jobs, and bringing down costs and extending choice for consumers.

The Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), a trade agreement between the US, the world’s largest economy, and the largest single market, the EU, has the potential to bring significant benefits. Europe and the United States are the UKs’ most important markets today. Indeed, the US is the UK’s biggest export market and likewise the UK economy attracts a significant level of Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) from across the Atlantic. That’s why we support the principles behind these negotiations and recognise that more and better trade is good for the UK. Reducing barriers could for example help our car industry export more vehicles to the US where there are regulations inhibiting this and negotiations could remove.

However, we do have four main areas of concern:
• Public services: we share the concerns about the impact that TTIP could have on public services encouraging commercialisation, particularly in the NHS. Labour believes that the NHS and all public services need to be more, not less, integrated. That is why we believe that the NHS should be exempt from the agreement. Other countries have sought to exempt areas from the agreement but this Government has not done this. Labour will continue to press for exemption.
• Investor State Dispute Resolution(ISDS): this is a dispute mechanism, commonly used in trade agreements and bilateral investment treaties. It allows investors to take proceedings against a government that is party to that trade agreement. If the government is found to be in breach of the obligations, the investor can receive redress. There is a major concern that the ISDS provisions could hinder our plans to reverse the privatisation of the NHS as it could result in those companies seeking compensation for loss of potential earnings. We believe that it is a right of governments to be able to legislate in the public interest and this should be protected effectively in any dispute resolution mechanisms. The European Commission has instigated several changes which have improved the transparency of the agreement which Labour welcomes. However, it is right that the European Commission has decided to temporarily suspend negotiations on ISDS until the final stages of the negotiations. Labour will be urging the Government to use this opportunity to call for far greater transparency around an exclusion for legislation in the public interest, like the NHS.
• Standards: the benefits of any treaty must filter down to employees and consumers. Treaties can cement and even increase labour, consumer, environmental and safety standards. Concerns have been raised that TTIP could reduce standards, although the principle behind the treaty is to keep or raise standards rather than reduce them. Labour will only support an agreement that avoids a race to the bottom and promotes decent jobs and growth and would safeguard standards.
• Non-inclusion of the US States: A significant stumbling block has been raised that the US states are not covered by the agreement and therefore procurement will not opened up. This mean we could be at a disadvantage as our markets are opened up but not to the same extent in the US. This is important because significant procurement spend in the US is at the State level.

A number of worries similar to our own have been raised by member states and these would need to be reflected to secure agreement and will need to be taken on board by the European Commission.

Why science and engineering is important to the UK

It ought to be a no-brainer, a question about the importance of science and engineering to the United Kingdom. In my job, as an information technology professional, I get a glimpse at the importance of science and technology.

In my, thus far, thirty-eight year long working life I have witnessed huge changes in how we work, and what we work with. I have also seen the UK’s industrial base change, and now we are far more dependent on service industries. It is clear, though, that we were a market leader in the science and engineering sectors, and we still are. The challenge ahead is to keep Britain important.

The twenty-first century is already seeing significant changes and challenges. Whilst the old order of Western Europe and North America is still very important, Asian and South American economies are rising. To meet the challenges that are presented by the likes of China, India, Japan, Brazil, Russia, etc, the UK has got to make sure its workforce has the skills and is able to meet the challenges that lie ahead. Education is key.

Business also has to acknowledge the simple maxim of adapt and survive. This means that education does not cease with the first job, but should be an ongoing thing – and employers should encourage training. Research into new technologies, which could mean new ways of doing old things, or it could mean new opportunities, must be encouraged – and Government can help here. Research without development, though, is effectively useless.

I liked it when the last Labour Government made policy to encourage more of our young into universities. I like it not that the current Government is making university a less attractive proposition. I also think that the education system must provide confidence in its examination system – employers must know the qualifications equate to ability and learning.

But it is not just about getting the numbers up at universities and further education establishments – I would hope that science and engineering courses would see a rise in popularity, and a more even gender balance. Women, so it seems to me, are for one reason or another enrolling in these courses in far fewer numbers than men. It is also true of my industry, computing, that the ratio of men to women is very unhealthy.

I am not a scientist, I am not even someone who reads much about science. It was not always the case. In a recent interview I was asked about my earliest favourite subjects at school. I answered that it was astronomy and palaeontology. I cannot adequately explain why I did not stick with them, or other sciences, but in part it must be down to the schooling that I had that did little to encourage here. I suspect, no I know, that the schools of today are unrecognisable from what I experienced in the 1960s and 1970s. The future must see similar levels of evolution in how we teach, what we teach, and the subjects we teach.

I am no crystal ball gazer, but it does not require prescience to see that the technological revolution has a long way to go, and that this revolution has happened because of advances in science and engineering. Britain has to remain at the vanguard, or it will see the effects in lowering relative prosperity. The internet and communications are shrinking our world and making changes in every facet of life.

We also have a future that has to address the issues of climate change. My belief is that new technologies, new green technologies, will become ever more important. This is an opportunity for a small island nation that clearly will be affected by rising tides (for example) to lead the way. Energy is another area that has got to see technology create new sources, or the lights really will go out.

Science and engineering matter in their own right; they also matter to the UK. For Britain to remain competitive and relevant, and for this to translate into prosperity, we need new scientists and new engineers emerging from our education system, and we need employment opportunities for them to take up.

A Tax Dodging Bill

Labour has committed to tackling tax avoidance, a commitment I am happy to endorse.

Whilst there is nothing wrong in organising a business’s affairs to make it tax efficient, on too many occasions we have seen this as a way to avoid most, if not all, tax responsibilities. This is plain wrong.

Many businesses make large profits in Britain, and it is not unreasonable to see some of those profits returned by means of taxation.

Perhaps it is emotive, but every overcrowded classroom or under-staffed hospital is arguably caused by those who avoid their civic responsibilities. Every reduction in police numbers, every unfixed pothole, every public service that is forced to reduce its offer to its clients is caused by the greedy refusing to pay their taxes. I think this should stop.

I would also seek to tackle the issue of tax havens too, although this will require international cooperation.

Therefore I would support a bill that seeks to address tax dodging. Whether that can happen in the first hundred days of a new Labour government I cannot say – to be honest there are a number of competing priorities.

I am happy to back the Tax Dodging Bill Campaign, although we must frame the rules in a way that does not damage our competitiveness as a country.

I would also support campaigns that would make it easier for the Government to collect unpaid, avoided, and uncollected taxes – and this means the recruitment of more tax collectors.

The broken window theory

The broken window theory essentially states that even one broken window normalises anti-social behaviour, effectively encouraging a second broken window, and then a third, and etc. The logical conclusion to be drawn is that of zero tolerance. Fix the small things, all small things, and the rest follows.

As a local councillor I am often confronted by low-level vandalism, graffiti, littering and the such like. My role is to encourage the local authority and police to address these issues, and I have had some success. However, in an era that sees local services and public services constrained by shrinking budgets it is becoming increasing difficult to sort out the broken windows; as resources become scarcer prioritisation is necessary. I understand the pressures and I understand that violent crime, for instance, has to be tackled before less serious crimes. However, there are consequences. I suspect we will see untidier neighbourhoods, for instance.

Cuts have consequences. With less money you get less. Of course, some of the cuts can come through services being more efficient, but this can only account for a fraction of what has to be saved. In policing, for instance, when Essex Police has to a more than a £70 million cut to accommodate it inevitably means fewer front-line police. Smarter policing will follow, but fewer police is not something that I have been asked to deliver; quite the contrary.

Invariably people want to see bobbies on the beat, they want the low-level vandalism sorted, they want safe neighbourhoods and criminals caught. They want zero tolerance; they are going to have to accept the reverse.

Austerity has a price.

EDM 202: TTIP

See http://www.parliament.uk/edm/2014-15/202

Having read Early day motion 202 it strikes me as perfectly reasonable to require democratic accountability for TTIP, especially in its dealings with Government bodies. I have therefore no problem with supporting this.

Of course, I am not a Member of Parliament (yet!) and so can only offer vocal support at this point, but I think it important that I do so, and that I broadcast my views so that all may know where I stand on this issue.

The motion reads as follows:

TRANSATLANTIC TRADE AND INVESTMENT PARTNERSHIP, DEMOCRACY, RIGHTS AND THE RULE OF LAW

That this House notes that the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership includes investor-state dispute settlements that are being designed in secret, so enabling multi-national companies to intimidate and sue governments for lost profits due to Government policies designed to protect the public as consumers or workers or to change the level of public ownership, that such settlements will be decided in private by arbitration panels, not in open court, that such actions and arrangements threaten to compromise the UK’s established democracy, human rights and the rule of law and that the shared fruits of trade should not be at the expense of the social and economic justice that democracy demands; and therefore calls on the Government to ensure that all proposed arrangements are fully scrutinised by Parliament and that no arrangements are made which compromise established standards of democracy, human rights and the rule of law.

As I write this there are 67 signatories to this EDM. Although mostly supported by Labour MPs, I acknowledge that there are signatories from the Conservative, SDLP, SNP, and Liberal Democrats.

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