Speech – Innovation Amendment


Innovation Amendment

To insert at the end of the words in Proposition 3: “, but subject to the addition to the six bullet points under the part of Appendix 1 entitled ‘Centre of excellence and innovation’ on page 13 of the following two bullet points:

  • Promote innovation within the public sector and its partners, and in pursuit of the realisation of government policies and strategies
  • Promote the pursuit of skills in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, providing opportunities for young men and women to gain the strong technical skills that underpin a creative, innovative society.”


I hope the first part of this amendment is not contentious. Through the Public Service Reform Agenda, and the commitment to transforming services across most of our Principal Committees, we have already embraced the need to think differently, to be creative and innovative, in the way we deliver public services, and in the way we work with partners outside the States. This just codifies that in the Plan.

The second part needs a little bit more explanation.

I think it is brilliant that one of the top aims in the Plan is to be a “centre of excellence and innovation.” But, my word, is it a tough aim.

Yesterday, Deputy Tindall quite rightly talked about times when Guernsey has been at the cutting edge of new developments – I believe she cited intellectual property as an example. And we are good at finding niches and developing great products or services within them.

But this section of the Plan doesn’t talk about being on the “cutting edge” of new developments. One can stay on the cutting edge for a long time by riding the crest of someone else’s wave. No, this section of the Plan talks about us being a “centre of excellence and innovation.” That means we’re going to have to make our own waves.

Almost every major economy around the world has a strategic commitment to innovation. The UK’s 2014 innovation strategy was simply titled “Our Plan for Growth” – that says it all. At the heart of each innovation strategy is a recognition of the vital importance of skills in science and technology. The OECD’s research on innovation found that “there is a strong circular and cumulative interaction between knowledge, skills and innovation”, reflecting that “an increase in the supply of skills can generate … change” with “more … technologies being invented, and … faster upgrading of the productivity of skilled workers.” We are reminded that “human capital is the essence of innovation” and, while innovation goes “beyond science and technology”, those disciplines have a “fundamental role” in “enabling radical innovation.”

So how do we become a centre of excellence and innovation? Well, if we can learn anything from other jurisdictions, it is that a real commitment to core skills in the so-called STEM subjects – that is: Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths – is an essential part of the solution.

The joy of innovation – and the trouble with it, too – is that it’s about doing things that people haven’t thought about before. About creative new ways of working. About imagination and invention. The whole point is that we don’t know where it’s going to take us. So if we want to build a society that is truly innovative, what we need are some building blocks. And valuing and promoting interest in science, technology, maths and engineering will certainly give us some pretty strong building blocks – they will help us create the platform for the Next New Thing; the thing we can’t even see coming at us yet.

Every aspect of education is important. I am not in any way attempting to under-value other areas of learning by shining a spotlight on science, technology, engineering and maths. I am just doing exactly that – shining a spotlight. Every government which aspires to dynamic growth, to enterprise, to innovation, has some kind of policy objective which targets STEM – which focuses on building interest, and skills, and knowledge, in these subject areas. We don’t, and I’m not sure that we ever have done. But if we are now going to make innovation one of the centre-pieces of our strategy for the next twenty years, we must.

I would also say, as an aside, that governments which are ambitious for STEM tend to be governments which are ambitious for the quality of their education system as a whole. Whatever the outcome of the selection debate, in three weeks’ time we are going to have to put all that behind us, and all of us, on both sides of the debate, will have to pull together with the common purpose of delivering an education system – whether inclusive or selective – which offers the quality and opportunity which all our children deserve. Being ambitious for STEM within that system seems like a good place to start.

From what I’ve heard before the debate, States Members generally agree that this is an area in which we should do more. However, the area I seem to have messed up in, is in drafting an objective which targets “young men and women.”

To address “men and women” first. Most countries report a considerable gender imbalance in the pursuit of science, technology, engineering, mathematics and related subjects, especially at higher levels and on into employment. There’s no reason to believe Guernsey is any different. The amendment could just have said “people”, and that would have been fine. But I wanted to spell it out in a way that gives equal weight to the participation of both men and women: to make it clear that both girls and boys can become great scientists, mathematicians, technicians, engineers, inventors and teachers and makers of all kinds. I don’t believe anyone here would disagree.

But why “young” men and women? In all honesty, because I was thinking about it through an educational frame. Valuing the STEM subjects starts in school, in further education, in university. It starts young. That doesn’t mean it stops later on – that doesn’t mean people shouldn’t seek second careers in science, technology, engineering or maths, or that they should not have the opportunities provided to do so – but it starts young. I don’t know what her views on this amendment are, and I don’t presume to guess at them, but I hope Deputy Dudley-Owen might take this opportunity to introduce some insights from the recent FinVention event she was part of, and the awesome contributions which young adults made to it.

To put this in some context, before the debate, a friend outside the States said to me, “why does your Children amendment just focus on the early years? Why doesn’t it focus on providing assistance to children and teenagers, and their families, at any age?”

My answer to that was: the early years are important. They are a particularly important policy objective, a pretty powerful place to focus if we want to achieve positive change. But in saying that the early years are important, I am not saying that every other year is not important. I’m just focusing attention. The Plan also contains Deputy Soulsby’s amendment on “Healthy Communities” which recognises the importance of prevention or early intervention, whenever problems emerge, for people of all ages and in all walks of life. The two amendments are complementary and, combined, reflect a general need for early help and a special focus on the early years.

Similarly, one of the primary themes of this Plan is “Lifelong Learning”. The whole spirit of this Plan is about learning and opportunities at all ages, and for people of all genders. This amendment nestles within that spirit. I hope through this to shine a spotlight on STEM, and on the importance of engaging young people especially, but it is just that – a specific highlight in the broader context of a commitment to lifelong learning. Given that, as Deputy Dorey pointed out earlier, in this Plan, we also have an objective to facilitate a vibrant and thriving Town through, I quote, “ensuring that local planning briefs are prepared for the Harbour Action Areas” – an ambition which is certainly valid, but very specific – it makes it rather harder to critique other amendments on the grounds of being overly precise. Nevertheless, if the reference to “young men and women” is the only objection which members have to this amendment, I would invite them to make that known during debate – if the Assembly considers it wise, if it is permitted, and if the Committee are willing to do so, perhaps a P&R-led amendment, in the same way as that placed to Deputy Brehaut’s Amendment 7, might be able to resolve that issue of wording. I would certainly prefer that to losing the commitment to STEM altogether. But I also sincerely do not believe that the reference to young men and women is exclusionary – it is simply focused.

The final question is: what does this amendment mean for the Committee for Education, Sport & Culture or for the Committee for Economic Development, which seem like the Committees which might have the closest interest in it? What does it mean for the Guernsey University working party, and whichever Committee oversees that – P&R, perhaps? Well, it simply means the same as any other objective in this Plan – that it is an area which the States will expect to be considered when Phase Two plans are being developed. It is not prescriptive – that would be rather ironic, given what I’ve just said about innovation, imagination and unpredictability. It does not demand a certain course of action. The time for working that out is in Phase Two. It simply focuses the mind.

I hope that members will recognise and support this amendment for what it is – a good base to start from. A commitment to the building blocks of innovation – skills, learning, knowledge. We want to be competitive, globally. We want to be a centre of excellence and innovation. We want a diversified economy, with a focus on high-value, low-footprint businesses. A strong foundation in science, technology, engineering and maths will help us to achieve this. I would encourage Members to support the amendment.

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