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MPs concerned PM's industrial strategy seems to be 'business as usual'

Theresa May's much-vaunted industrial strategy is in danger of failing to deliver on her promise to get the "whole economy firing" due to lack of ambition, MPs have warned.

The Commons Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee said despite promises of a "step change" in the Government's approach, a green paper published in January was simply a continuation of previous policies.

The committee was scathing about the failure to address the weaknesses in the UK's skills base, saying its proposals left "much to be desired".

"After six months in development we expected more than a disappointing combination of re-announcements, continuations of existing policy, and vague aspirations," it said.

The committee also sounded a warning that businesses needed to be able to continue to bring in skilled workers from abroad after Britain has left the European Union.

"In the context of negotiations over free movement as part of withdrawal from the EU, Government must ensure that businesses continue to be able to access the skills they need," it said.

Mrs May's commitment to a deliver an industrial strategy was a key plank of her successful bid to become Conservative leader last year, and was seen to mark a break with David Cameron's approach.

The committee said her promise to build an economy that "works for everyone", appeared to represent a "significant shift", suggesting the Government was willing to sacrifice some short-term economic growth for "more evenly distributed and resilient growth".

But while it acknowledged ministers were still developing their strategy, it said that so far the proposals set out in the green paper by Business Secretary Greg Clark had failed to match the Prime Minister's rhetoric.

"It provides a long list of policy interventions but little by way of ground rules to provide a framework for future decision-making which, we would argue, should be the core of any long-term strategy," it said.

"While the Prime Minister's rhetoric suggests an intention to approach this with a welcome and renewed vigour, the incremental proposals outlined in the green paper leave us sceptical about whether the fresh thinking or political will is present across Government to deliver the Prime Minister's objectives."

The committee said that while the Government was right to support industries which faced anti-competitive pressures, such as steel, it should not be providing "palliative care" for those that were "failing and obsolete".

"Where industries are unsustainable, the Government's priority should be to support individual workers, not to prop up particular companies," it said.

Committee chairman Iain Wright said: "As a committee, we are concerned that with Government announcements the approach seems to be 'business as usual' and a silo-based approach in Whitehall which will not achieve the step change the Prime Minister aspires to."

A Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy spokesman said: "Leaving the European Union gives us the opportunity to make fresh choices about our economic future as we build an economy that works for everyone.

"Our modern industrial strategy represents an ambitious long-term vision for the UK that will build on our strengths as a country and deliver a high-skilled economy for the years ahead.

"The green paper is the beginning of an open dialogue to develop this strategy - we welcome contributions to the consultation process and will consider the findings of this report carefully."

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