Industrial Policy: Learning from the past

As a result of the institutional inability to learn from experience, British industrial policy suffers from policy inconsistency and coordination failures.


The UK’s industrial policy since the 1970s has been characterised by frequent policy reversals and announcements, driven by political cycles, while multiple uncoordinated public bodies, departments and levels of government are responsible for delivery.

This paper explores the impacts of these deficiencies of the industrial policymaking landscape in the UK and contrasts them with the experiences of other advanced economies.

A consequence of the policy inconsistency and poor coordination identified here is that UK industrial policy lacks adequate information feedback channels from outcomes to the policy process; there is a failure to learn or to build on successes.

Some potential options for reform, embedding a more systematic mechanism of policy updating, are also explored, considering lessons from other countries that could be feasibly implemented in the UK.

  • Blog: Can the UK learn from past failures to develop an effective industrial policy?
  • Podcast: Levelling Up through industrial policy, institutions and fiscal mechanisms
    In this Productivity Puzzles podcast episode, Professor Diane Coyle talks to host Bart van Ark talks with fellow guests, Andy Westwood and Philip McCann, about research relating to UK industrial policy, local growth and fiscal implications of governance devolution.


  • About the author

    Professor Diane Coyle, Bennett Professor of Public Policy

    Professor Coyle co-directs the Institute with Professor Kenny. She is heading research under the progress and productivity themes.   Learn more

    Diane Coyle 2018
  • About the author

    Adam Muhtar, Research Assistant

    Adam is a Research Assistant at the Bennett Institute for Public Policy. He previously worked as an economist within Malaysia’s policymaking circles, serving the Prime Minister's advisory council, the Ministry of Finance, the capital market regulator, and the sovereign wealth fund’s research institute.   Learn more