1. Re-Inventing Industrial Strategy: Insight from Elite Sport Systems
Following the 2012 London Games, UK political leaders noted the remarkable turnaround in British Olympic fortunes since 1996, suggesting that British industry might learn from it – although this has yet to result in a clear change in approach. British industrial policy has traditionally been a rather blunt instrument, particularly since the 1970s when tight controls were introduced and followed by an unquestioning belief in ‘free’ markets from the 1980s onward. However, the successful development and strengthening of competitiveness in UK elite sport – and the influence of the state in this process – suggests there may well be a key role for the state in a strategy for industrial competitiveness.
Analysis of Britain’s elite sport strategy reveals an integrated and interactive relationship between the state and sporting institutions. The approach is fundamentally ‘expert’ driven, with the majority of institutions focused entirely on sport, rather than politics. It facilitates and maintains a ‘competitive market’ where talent can be continually identified and maximised. Driven by a shared vision and a single-minded focus on success, this approach has the potential to inform the development of a strategy for industry. It is also significant that the sport strategy was evolved in a British context; it improved existing structures and capabilities, allowing rapid implementation – and outcomes that are little short of astonishing. This provides the basis for a meaningful debate about the role of the state in industry and a competitive rather than ‘free’ market environment.
We selected five sectors for further research: Watch making, Wine producing, Audio, Automotive and Emerging technologies. For each industry sector, we interviewed the industry body, businesses, a distributor, an educator and the industry press. Interviewees were identified both by their industry body and by businesses already involved in the project. Emerging themes – the focus of this paper – include (1) the nature of relationships among businesses, supporting institutions and markets; (2) the potentially ‘market enhancing’ role of the state; (3) building competitiveness (as opposed to ‘picking winners’); (4) alternative sources of finance; (4) broken supply chains (and the need to repair them); and (5) the importance of ‘British-ness’.