A New National Purpose: Innovation Can Power the Future of Britain
Science and technology have been the driving force of progress for much of our modern age. Our accomplishments have allowed us to live longer, healthier lives, to travel across the world and into space, and to generate food and energy at scale.
The United Kingdom has been at the forefront of many of these breakthroughs and was home to one of humanity’s great leaps: the Industrial Revolution. Another revolution is now taking place as developments in artificial intelligence (AI), biotech, climate tech and other fields begin to change our economic and social systems.
Of course, as with the Industrial Revolution, this 21st-century Technological Revolution carries dangers as well as opportunities.
The challenge for policymakers is to mitigate the former and fully embrace the latter. But this requires a fundamental re-ordering of our priorities and the way the state itself functions.
The UK is starting with real strengths in many areas of emerging technology. It also has assets in its universities and in its private sector that offer significant advantages.
However, as we show in this report, without radical change, we risk decline. We cannot afford to fall behind.
The future of Britain will depend on a new age of invention and innovation. Technological superpowers such as the United States and China are investing heavily in their futures, raising the possibility that everyone else will be trapped behind these two forces – a risk the EU is belatedly recognising and acting upon.
Britain must find its niche in this new world. To do so requires a radical new policy agenda, with science and technology at its core, that transcends the fray of 20th-century political ideology.
In turn, this requires a fundamental reshaping of the state, from how government itself works to how public services are delivered.
This new “strategic state” needs to embrace the technological revolution.
The private sector is already doing so. Individuals are already doing so. Across the board, the costs of electronic goods and software have been driven down, information has become abundant, and we can access entertainment, book travel or connect with friends and family almost instantly.
Government and public services, on the other hand, face costs increasing, service slowing and the public’s frustration building.
The starting point, then, is to ask how government can harness the benefits of this revolution for our country and use data and technology to drive down the cost of public services while improving outcomes.
The speed of the Covid response – particularly the development and deployment of new vaccines – shows what can happen when the government and the private sector mobilise effectively behind a clear purpose. We need to bring the same laser focus to the agenda we set out here.
Over the long run, a successful British state will likely be smaller in scope but more effective in its delivery. In practical terms, achieving this entails a series of reforms, which are laid out in our joint report by Tony Blair and William Hague.