Race track puts broad base in pole position

July 19, 1996

The Government should concentrate on promoting broad-based university and school education and avoid detailed involvement in job-specific training, according to new findings by the Institute of Public Policy Research, whose work is likely to influence the Labour Party's next election manifesto.

In a study of the racing-car construction industry, carried out as part of the work of the IPPR's Commission on Public Policy and British Business, the IPPR found that early specialisation is reducing the supply of people who understand high technology and producing accountants and other professionals who have little sympathy for it.

Gerald Holtham, director of IPPR, said: "Government attempts to provide vocational training in industries like this have not been a success. Instead we need a better education system which produces people with a broad education who do not need remedial lessons later."

The IPPR report found that the United Kingdom has a network of more than 600 firms supplying the world motor-racing industry, the biggest such concentration in the world. It is possible that other such networks can be built up, said the IPPR, if facilities like science parks are expanded to encourage them.

It seems that about a fifth of the firms in the industry have significant collaborative agreements with universities, and that they spend about 14 per cent of their turnover on research and development, a high figure by the standards of British industry. Because it is an industry in which people want to work, it reports no shortage of skilled engineers except in electronics.

But the report, by Beverly Aston of Royal Holloway, University of London, and Mark Williams of Exeter College, Oxford, found that the British racing car industry is one that cannot be deliberately copied in other product areas.

It grew up because of the success of amateur car-builders in the postwar period and many of the firms involved began as garage businesses, as did Silicon Valley in California, only graduating later to increased size and sophistication.

Playing to Win, IPPR, 30-32 Southampton Street, London WC2E 7RA, Pounds 7.50.

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