On Friday 10 July, the government announced its new Productivity Plan, called Fixing the Foundations: Creating a More Prosperous Nation. Here, Design Council Chief Executive John Mathers offers our response and advice.

The UK’s productivity continues to lag behind those of our peers, and reforms to address it are long overdue. Many of the proposals outlined by the government are welcome, but their success rests upon smart implementation and whether or not Britain is able to make use of its long-held talent for design. 

If we are serious about addressing productivity, then design must be at the heart of this proposal. Whether this means designing workplaces to maximise outputs, designing supply chains to get more for your money, or designing buildings and infrastructure to ensure they work for people, productivity means design. Winston Churchill recognised this when his government founded the world’s first Design Council in 1944 in order to support economic growth after World War II.

The Chancellor is right to make innovation central to his plans. Innovation was responsible for two-thirds of labour productivity gains in 2014, and 10.2% was from design. Design Council has been working with universities and businesses to make the link between research and industry, and we will continue to work with the Catapults and others to make sure the UK gets this right.

If we are serious about addressing productivity, then design must be at the heart of this proposal.

Plans to address the country’s skills deficit are also very welcome. We must ensure that this meets the needs of industry who are crying out for graduates who are able to blend technical know-how with a creative approach. Innovation for growth will not come from mathematicians who cannot design a product, and we must address this at a systematic level.

To boost UK productivity, we must deliver the housing and infrastructure needed to create prosperous places across the country. However, the government’s proposed reforms to planning must ensure that quality is delivered through the system in collaboration with local communities.

Our cities programme has demonstrated that a strategic approach to planning and community engagement can successfully bring about the development needed to stimulate local growth, creating more successful, prosperous places across the country. This approach could be applied to successfully deliver the government’s ambitions to build the Northern Powerhouse.

Design Council is currently undertaking economic impact research to produce a more accurate estimate of design’s contribution to the UK economy, which we will publish in the autumn. I hope by the time it is released, we will already have the wheels in motion.

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