Mixed signals: a lack of policy coordination means difficulties in translating national government policy into local delivery

The UK must face up to three key challenges if it is to ever shift the dial on its poor productivity growth, says Stephen Roper, Director of the Enterprise Research Centre at Warwick Business School. 

“We need to increase public and private investment in research and development, and in our labour force,” Professor Roper said at an event held by the University of Warwick and The Productivity Institute to mark National Productivity Week.

“We also need to improve knowledge-sharing across the economy, sharing best practice more effectively between firms and places.

“Finally, the lack of policy co-ordination between the UK Government and local authorities in the regions remains a major stumbling block. The UK has long been characterised by its inability to join up its policies on training, higher education, science and technology and so on – all of which contribute to productivity.”

Business leaders and policymakers at the Re-imagining Productivity event this week were also urged to look beyond the apparent disparities between high-productivity and low-productivity areas of the economy and think more holistically.

“We should be changing our attitude and recognise that a lot of what we label ‘low productivity’ from the construction, transport and care sectors, and firms at lower tiers of supply chains, support the high-tech high value sectors that we need to nurture,” said Nigel Driffield, Professor of International Business and Midlands Forum Lead for the Productivity Institute.

“As such we need to view the whole economy as interlinked, and view activities through the social returns that they generate rather than simply focusing on margins.

“We ought to be thinking of the economy overall and how it all fits together.”

Are we moving towards more hybrid working? 

Part of that wider economy is increasingly made up of freelance creative workers who represent a future of work that involves multi-tasking, multi-stakeholders and a certain precariousness, Chris Bilton, Professor of Creative Industries at the University of Warwick, said.  

In the freelance world it is often “difficult to draw the distinction between working and not working, and between one task and another,” he told delegates.

In as much as many employees are now facing a more hybrid, unstructured way of working in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, these creative workers are acting as “the canary in the coal mine”, he said.

Shifting work patterns were also a theme taken up by Professor Bart van Ark, Managing Director of The Productivity Institute, in a panel discussion held towards the end of the conference. With more people working from home post-pandemic there is a massive “opportunity to rethink”, he said.

“More and more organisations are talking about the possibility of a four-day week,” he said. “That, combined with hybrid working and the digital transformation that is going on now, will drive us into a new era of industry.”

The Productivity Institute this week launched The Productivity Agenda, a 10-chapter report that looks at the slowing productivity growth in the UK over the past 15 years and highlights nine key areas policymakers need to focus on to address the problem.

It was written by academics spanning a number of universities, including Professor van Ark and Professor Roper.

National Productivity Week is an initiative to raise awareness of the importance of productivity and its impact on living standards, society and the environment.


Nigel Driffield is Professor of International Business, teaches Law and the International Business Environment on the Undergraduate programme.

Stephen Roper is Professor of Enterprise and Director of the Enterprise Research Centre.

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