The Electrotechnical Systems Council (ESCO) exists to ensure that the UK benefits from electronic and electrical systems innovation in smart energy, smart healthcare, smart manufacturing and smart transportation.
The choice in the EU referendum of 23rd June is one for the British people but the impact on our economy and its sectors should feature in the debate. The UK electrical and electronics sectors are thriving as part of the EU, representing 6.8% of our economy and employing some 1.16million people through 46,000 large, medium and small companies. Our sector benefits from EU membership in three important ways: straight forward access to our major trading partner, a wider base to recruit and deploy skilled people and high innovation impact through UK and EU research.
Straight forward access to the EU – an established single market where standards are key…
European standards in the single market enable confidence that products designed and made in Europe meet the technical standards which many UK experts have helped to develop. UK products are recognised across Europe and beyond because of our active participation in European standards and UK consumers and companies benefit from consistency, reduced cost and improved product safety. The UK presently holds high influence and voting weight in the European Standards Organisations and by working together with our European partners, 160,000 national standards have already been harmonised to fewer than 19,000 European standards today. EU standards are essential to our success in electrical and electronic systems and we must continue to fully participate in these important regulatory activities.
A wide recruitment base for scarce talent across the EU…
We face a deficit of home-grown, qualified electrical and electronics engineers in the UK. Government and industry are working together to rectify this through schemes like the Electronic Systems Degree Apprenticeship, but we have no short-term fix. Free access to the EU engineering pool is essential to prevent a skills shortage from impacting our economic progress. Indeed, the Institution of Engineering and Technology’s 2015 ‘Skills and Demand in Industry’ report found that 64% of respondents identified a shortage of engineers as a ’threat to their business’. With EU membership, companies will continue to choose the right people for the job from the wider EU talent pool without the bureaucracy of work permits, whilst British engineers will maintain the opportunity to work anywhere in the EU too.
Innovation impact – through European collaboration, grants and investment…
As we understand and embrace emerging digital technologies, like the Internet of Things and Industry 4.0, it is increasingly evident that we need to foster innovation and collaboration beyond our borders. Smart energy, transportation and manufacturing are already European conversations that we must continue to influence from within. Digital technologies represent an opportunity for SMEs and big business alike and we must build on the UK’s lead in IT, electronics and research to shape and access the wider opportunity, which the European Union represents. The UK attracts significant innovation and investment funds that would be put at risk were we to leave. Indeed, 47% of the EU’s Foreign Direct Investment finds its way here – the ideal European base for commercial and research activity.
Whilst the EU is not perfect, we have achieved much through EU membership and much more now depends on collaboration in an increasingly interconnected world. An exit vote would damage collaborative relationships, diminish our influence in countless ways and lessen the legal protections we enjoy that today bar non-tariff barriers. The UK is an attractive place for electrical and electronics companies to innovate, educate and invest and ESCO advocates a ‘remain, reform and re-vitalise’ agenda within the EU to ensure we can continue to benefit from UK and EU support for our technology sector.
Chairman, ESCO Council
16th May 2016