Hutton: the future in Belfast MUST be flexible

We’ll be coming back to the Creating a Good Economy conference several times over the next few days… Between Alan, Geoff and Ivor we’ve a shed load of content to share. There was lots of good stuff.

Two things stand out: one Arlene’s insistence that the late arrival of the programme for government would have an negliable effect on confidence in Northern Ireland; and two Will Hutton, for many years the imaginative genius behind the Work Foundation, bluff call to start focusing on meeting the demands of the future, rather than regretting the economic deficits of the past…

To do that, he says, we have to get more flexibility into our working practices, not least to promote the kind of innovation Belfast and Ulster was once famous for. In a post industrial small, smart companies that seek out overseas markets (the ones who still have Dollar reserves enough to still be spending and growing)

If the state won’t (or can’t) and FDI is a longer term project then we have to find it for ourselves in the way we work…

Via Geoff, here’s his slideshow:

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  • Cynic2

    “the late arrival of the programme for government would have an negliable effect on confidence in Northern Ireland”

    Tripe. The DUP/SF Axis assume that many companies will just hang around waiting for them to calve. Sadly, many of them arent in a fit state to do that. But never mind Arlene. That’s just capitalism for you are sure the little people who lose their jobs will be available to work for those multinationals that aren’t flooding in to set up here.

    “imaginative genius” ….. “call to start focusing on meeting the demands of the future, rather than regretting the economic deficits of the past”

    “smart companies that seek out overseas markets (the ones who still have Dollar reserves enough to still be spending and growing)”


    I am sorry and I can see you seem to revere him but OMG what a revelation!

    I would never have thought of doing that. Next thing he will be telling us that as we are on the periphery of Europe we need to focus on products with low transport costs where we can be price competitive. Or perhaps a strategy based on innovation and quality

    I am overwhelmed by the geniius

  • Boglover

    The real issue in NI is the dead hand of the Civil Service with their caution and lack of dynamism. Any decision takes an age to make because it requires clearance for higher authority, be that bureaucrat or politician.

  • Mick Fealty

    You’re just far too smart for this world Cynic2…

  • Cynic2


    Naw I am not ……but I KNOW when I am not

  • “Civil society to the rescue will hutton”

    Interesting table on page 2. There appear to be significant growths in ‘bad’ capitalism around 1966 and 1997 – the first with the arrival of Harold Wilson and the second (and much worse) with the arrival of Tony Blair.

    The Daily Mail gave poor Will a hard time 18 months ago; it more or less portrayed him as a ‘champagne socialist’; it called him a Europhile.

    Here’s a brilliant one-liner tweeted by alaninbelfast yesterday: “alaninbelfast #cgeni Will Hutton: Says “sex is going to be amazing in the 21st century” due to the rise of the experiential“. Being pedantic, I thought experiential was an adjective – I’m open to correction.

  • Reader

    Nevin: Being pedantic, I thought experiential was an adjective – I’m open to correction.
    What’s wrong with that though? Sure we’re all adjectives up here – unionist, nationalist, loyalist and republican alike.

  • Mick Fealty

    Glad you’ve resiled to talking about the subject Nevin…

  • Zig70

    lots of anecdotes. The smart savvy people that I’ve met in business have nearly all ended up in the public sector. I’m planning to go that way myself once I line up a few ducks (sic). Need to cut that gravy train to force the smarties to restart the economy but after I’ve milked it, please.

  • Mick Fealty

    What is this? The Statler and Waldorf sound alike Club? Just to attempt to get a reasoned conversation going, try flicking through the slides..

    For instance, where have the jobs been coming from over the last 30 years?

    • Manufacturing – minus 3.8 million
    • Health and Social care – 1.9 million
    • Professional,Scientific and Technical – 1.5 million
    • Administration and Business Services – 1.3 million
    • Education – 1.1 million

  • Mick Fealty

    Hutton’s view is with manufacturing tanking, innovative new services for manufacturing is the big opportunity:

    what do these mysterious manu-services actually involve? While the answer seems straightforward – anything which combines manufacturing and services – in reality this encompasses a lot of different trends. Some manu-services involve designing bespoke products around the customer’s needs, so that neither buyer nor seller know what it will look like when they sign the contract (for instance, a defence firm might develop an advanced new system in this way). Others involve selling long-term service contracts, with maintenance and after-sales care guaranteed along with the product (the Rolls-Royce “power by the hour” model is the most famous example of this).

    What matters is not which services are provided, but how they benefit the customer. For manufacturers, manu-services is not just a new market; it involves switching to an entirely new business model. Companies no longer sell goods – they sell whole packages, to provide experiences, outcomes or solutions. They develop lasting relationships with their customers, rather than relying on a series of one-off transactions. That means that they have a range of new ways to innovate and differentiate themselves; not only can they develop better and cheaper goods, they can also improve the services they offer.

    In fact, we believe that manu-services have replaced “high-tech” manufacturing as the key source of potential comparative advantage for manufacturers within an increasingly competitive global economy. Many emerging economies are expanding rapidly into high-tech manufacturing – defined rather arbitrarily by the proportion of their turnover that companies spend on R&D – while some developed countries – especially Britain – are seeing their high-tech manufacturing base contract faster than low-tech manufacturing. By contrast, manu-services are hard to deliver, and therefore harder to copy. If a country can build up expertise in manu-services, it is likely to be able to hold on to it.

  • John Ó Néill

    To take Huttons point – where will jobs come from over the next 30 years?

    And the joined up questions – in terms of future-proofing skills requirements – are second and third level education delivering the necessary learning programmes? Is the there any recognition of the spatial planning needs to met demands?

    For comparison – Forfas and the expert skills groups have produced various studies in Dublin including surveys of unfilled vacancies and industry horizon scanning. Makes for interesting reading. The Forfas studies were the basis for a number of funded education programmes that are in place this year (under the Springboard scheme). Obviously impacts won’t be seen for a while, but at least there is some attempt to plan.

  • Mick Fealty

    What I liked about Hutton is that he did not move directly to the instrumental means of getting out, though he did dump his ‘big idea’ at the tail end of his presentation (of which more later)… The important thing at this stage is to get a view of the context, before moving on…

    Interesting that skills where just one element at the heart of his argument. Too often this is defered to education to sort out on its own.

    However Hutton identified the nexus between state and private as the place where most of the big step forwards took place. He gave these historic examples of innovations that have created massive leaps forward in human wealth…

    – The three masted sailing ship (funded by Spanish/Portuguese unification) led to the discovery of America;

    – The Gutenburg press, which depended upon Protestant princes buying up loads of bibles;

    – And it was the Pentagon which invented the Internet.

    All were co-productions between public and private…

    He also introduced this idea of Flexsecurity… which in itss origins is the idea is that we need a new social contract at work…

    In Denmark, for instance, they have outlawed redundancy but the state then provides a safety net that allows people to remain flexible in the way they respond to unemployment…

    Future proofing cannot work, if the workforce do not have the capacity to innovate their way into new markets and new sources of wealth…

  • FuturePhysicist

    I thInk that Manu-services are just an old Market rebranded. In many industries these would fall into the services already provided by both high and low tech industry. There is of course another reason for the contraction apart from competition particularly the bad business models of big idea men out of touch with the corporeal issues.

    For some reason I don’t think they buy 10 manuservices if 1 precision engineered product did the job, even if it were shown more cost efficient to have the ten.

  • FuturePhysicist

    It just seems to me that when it comes to business people telling the engineers they hire how they can do a better job, it could turn into a Pointy Haired Boss routine.

    If this sector does have potential, it’ll need severe scrutiny by engineers and business people humble and serene enough to discuss the issue sensibly.