Speeches, etc.

Margaret Thatcher

Speech opening Warwick University Advanced Technology Centre

Document type: Speeches, interviews, etc.
Venue: Conference Room, Advanced Technology Centre, Warwick University
Source: Thatcher Archive: transcript
Editorial comments: Around 1100.
Importance ranking: Minor
Word count: 2528
Themes: Education, Higher & further education, Employment, Industry, Privatized & state industries, Taxation, Science & technology, Trade union law reform

It is a great pleasure for me to be here seeing this new Advanced Technology Centre this morning. It's the kind of thing which was the focus of our hopes and dreams ten years ago and now it's coming to pass.

Each of you in your comments has made some reference to the fact that some ten years ago industry was not sufficiently competitive too many industrial relations problems and unused to making decisions effectively and quickly. All of those things were indeed problems and they were partly problems because the role of government and industry wasn't right. Government has taken upon itself too many of the decisions and too much of the ownership and had taken away the point of decision from the place where it should be made namely where the action is.

So we had to set about changing things and changing the role of government to enable industry to turn to enterprise, profit and creating the jobs of the future. We did it in the following way. First, we took many decisions right out of the hands of government by abolishing many controls which were hitherto a great fetter on the success of industry. You couldn't decide what your wages were, you couldn't decide what your prices were, you couldn't decide your foreign exchange policy. All of that, all of those controls we [end p1] aboliched so that you were the better able to make those decisions in relation to the success of your specific industry. And then, as some of you know, particularly Sir Graham Day knows, we took whole industries right out of the hands of government. Believe you me, politicians are not good at running industry, if they were, they would be in it, not in politics. And it was quite wrong that we should have so many nationalised industries. All that you have a nationalised industry for is so that politicians can interfere in the commercial interests of the company, and they don't flourish and they didn't and they cost the tax payer a packet. And so we have taken whole industries right out of the hands of government, right out of the hands of politicians and put them back into the hands of industry, and I can only recall some of the many many discussions I had with Sir Graham Day in the process of doing that with Rover and we got it away to the great benefit of the industry itself and also to the great benefit of the tax payer. And certain we had to try and look at the attitudes of management. We couldn't do that alone. It wasn't surprising that with the picture I have painted that management had got out of the habit of making decisions, out of the habit of enterprise. Both of those were gradually being restored, but I remember that when I was Secretary of State for Education, we were very pleased that we had set up the business schools. [end p2]

It is very strange in a way that the business schools had to be set up by government, where as in other countries they have been set up by industry. But you know that we were very disappointed that the courses in those business schools were mostly on corporate planning, because no-one was interested in production engineering or production management. Now things have indeed changed, but the first thing we have to do was to take away many powers of government, many decisions out of the hands of government and restore it to industry. Indeed as I sometimes remind people when the propaganda gets too much the other way, this government has taken away more powers from government than any other previous one this century and handed it back to industry and to people.

The second thing that we had to do was to revise outdated laws. You wanted to get industry right, with its industrial relations, through the barriers (?) of power between employer and employee was better than it had been. And you weren't going to get it right until we put more power over whether it be strikes or disputes into the hands of the ordinary trade unionist and took it away from those who might decide not according to the future prosperity of the industry but for reasons of their own. And so over the years we have altered the trade union law and basically we altered it for a reason people don't usually realise. We believe that most people [end p3] want to do a decent days work for a good days pay. They want to work for a successful company, they want to know that it is making profit, they want to know you have got enough money to invest, they want to know it's got good prospects. That is what most people believe and that is the way most people would react if left to themselves. And so we had to put the power into the hands of that majority and that is the way in which we started to reform the trade union role and take away any power of intimidation by gradually getting rid of the closed shop. This was one part of revising the law. You also had to revise the Health and Safety Law. Some of the Employer Employee Relationship Law, and of course it was our job to see that industry remain competitive. We don't like monopolies and duopolies. Industry must remain competitive. So we have built a new framework of law within which industry could thoroughly operate and pursue its latest enterprises and pursue a successful and profitable industry. So the second thing was to revise outdated laws.

The third thing was to revise the tax system. Again it was a case of relinquishing powers from government to people. Families were taxing [sic] too much. They were taking far too much in rates of taxation so particularly on middle management and upper management hadn't had an incentive and neither had those who did overtime. So we altered the taxation system [end p4] give more incentives, to give more incentives to companies too, so that if you do make a good profit you get a lower rate of taxation. And we tried to make it so that you didn't gear your investment to what the tax system was, but to what your commercial dictates required. And I remember with some of the companies, when you were starting to look at changes in the taxation system and looking at depreciation, and looking at companies, who as Sir Graham Day says its people who matter most, and you would say, “Well now, what are your fixed assets?” A computer company or software company would say, “We don't have fixed assets, all our most valuable assets wear shoes.” And that of course is a great shame (change?), but again one had to accommodate this new thing where everything is highly computerised, everything depends so much on the software and may I remind you that we are still importing more software than we are exporting, and I hope that with this Centre you will still be able to change that. That was the third thing we had to do.

The fourth thing, we did have to have a look at the education system right from schools up to universities, because frankly we haven't got enough people choosing to go into universities in science and we haven't got enough people coming into science in universities because we haven't got the science teaching in school right and too many children have been [end p5] allowed to give up science too early. That's taken a long time to get that right, but we are at last doing it and the university system is responding tremendously. University Grants Committee, now the University Funds Committee, is also looking at the excellence of research in universities, again which is having a very forward looking approach, and we are as you know, trying to ensure that every child at school takes science and technology right up to the age of sixteen. They don't know what the future will hold, if you build in these fundamental ways of thought in science and computer industry, you build it in, they can always pick it up later, if you don't build it in then those habits of thought, the theory, the hypothesis, the testing, the experiment, the testing your ideas against the facts, if you don't build that in when they are young, it is much more difficult to build it in later. And so we are doing that, very effectively now, and I hope it will work soon to more young people taking sciences, and being able to go from one science to another because science really, we artificially put it into slices and faculties, it really is much more one whole mode of thought.

And the next thing, our attitude to research. Now as the pharmacists know, and as most of you know here, who deal with this through the advisory boards and committees, I am a [end p6] passionate believer that government must fund the overwhelming majority of basic research. But of course when we have got the basic research, the acid test of what we do that comes over to co-operating with industry to use and adapt and apply that basic research, and it has been marvellous to see the increase in budgets for both applied research technology and development that is happening in industry, but also to see that at last another of our ambitions has been, has come to fruition, it's that industry and our academic people are working more closer together than ever before in a great cross fertilisation of ideas, each adding as they come into collision as we would say in science, or as the atoms come into collision with one another, producing new and fruitful ideas and always with an element of realism. It has got to work, it has got to sell, it has got to compete against the best overseas.

So our attitude to research is our government does a great deal of the basic, not all, and most of the near market research is now done by industry, and the last thing that we are now having a very considerable and further look at is training.

A bigger proportion of our young people are going to need to be skilled. You have seen so many marvellous young people [end p7] here, I am talking about training the practical side, training in management. I think it is a marvellous scheme what you are doing here in training and training young managers that come, they all come to the same place, they go back, they know that they have got a similar training and they can put what they have learned here into operation back in the factories. And industry will never work unless we have good management, and it was good management that assists in getting everyone to work together it consists of keeping product design and development well ahead of the market and it consists in never being satisfied with what you've got, but always going on to something newer because you have to watch your competitors as well as your own performance. We will have to look at training, with a view to knowing that we are going to have fewer young people coming out of school and a higher proportion will have to be skilled, and so much of manufacturing industry requires too, a higher proportion of highly skilled labour.

Now that's been what we have done. I must admit to you that it's not been a bad record but it wouldn't have worked unless you had immediately taken up the opportunities that were made available to you, whether in industry or in the universities, because universities are very different places, universities are extremely important places in the life of the nation. As [end p8] I indicated before, they are not only for trasmitting their heritage of knowledge, not only for training the mind, they are also for thinking and producing those ideas which are the fruits of the universe and they do and we have seen so many of those in the last ten years. Very important indeed, but this terrific co-operation between the academic faculties, the inter-disciplinary aspect to each faculty working together. I have often said that you couldn't have got the results in the past unless you had in fact been inter-disciplinary, I have had this argument recently on the ACOST Committee. I said that you could never have got some of the results unless science had been inter-disciplinary, but never mind, the in thing is inter-disciplinary research centres. I hope Warwick has got one, but if not Professor Bhattacharyya assures me that he has in his Advanced Technology Centre, but it's working.

Now the Advanced Technology Centre you have picked up all of the new freedoms and used them. The great advantage of our country as growth is coming up and we are nearly coming up to the productivity of some of our continental neighbours and passed some of them, but before I come again I want to see our productivity and our unit labour costs and our advanced technology way ahead of those of Germany that we can do if we continue along the path we are doing now. [end p9]

Now this Advanced Technology Centre which is my privilege to open, owes a very very great deal, first to the University. University out of its departments, I think it is six scientific departments have all been marked out for special favour and special excellence by the University Funding Committee which says a very very great deal. It also owes a great deal to Professor Bhattacharyya for the leadership which he has given over a very long period.

We also would like to say thank you to Rover and to Rolls Royce for the way in which they have taken up the opportunities and providing the funding. Most of the funding for this is not coming from government, not should it, we are not wealth creating we are wealth consuming, you're the wealth creators and its right that some of it goes back into creating the future. Rolls Royce for the ceramic materials it is developing for its gas turbine engines and Rover for the new technology, the new management skills it's developing for each new product as it comes off the line and the best thing I have heard today was that we really can now compete with the very best of the world over.

I would also just like to say one word again about Professor Bhattacharyya, because he really has been a true pioneer. His name is now known the world over. When I was in Malaysia [end p10] they asked me about him and when I was in Singapore and Hong Kong, and it has been this pioneering, his persistence, knowing you have a good idea and you won't be put off by anyone but you just go on until you have got it fully and truly complete, and I think it has been a combination of the university, Rolls Royce and Rover, and there are the others too, coming on and also the pioneering spirit of Professor Bhattacharyya that has got this Advanced Technology Centre up and running.

Many many years ago, politicians can so often get things wrong, and writers and journalists, went to have a look at the then new system in the Soviet Union in the 1920's and there was a book which came out I seem to remember and it was titled thus, “I Have Seen The Future And It Works” , but of course it didn't and we now know that. What I want to say to you is this: we have created a future and its our future that works, but we have done more than that, we have created a structure which will continue the right structure, the new thought for research, the constant thinking, the constant application, the taking care not to make mistakes that can be eliminated before something comes into production, the competition, the enterprise, the government getting the role of government right and saying, “Over to industry and over to people, and over to management.” This is the recipe for the [end p11] future but it constantly has to be kept up to date. If we have done quite well in the past, and you have done extremely well here at Warwick, that the future is a very big place. It's like that bit of Tennyson, I have also had to have a bit of the arts in a science speech, you know in a poem Tennyson 'sUlysses and it comes towards the end and there is a little bit “all expenence is a march where through gleans the untravelled world whose margin fades for ever and forever when I move” . That is like research, that is like enterprise, that is like life, and I believe now that we have got the right ways, the right foundation with which to tackle the future and see that Britain's performance is right up front and right at the top.

It is my very great pleasure formally to open this Advanced Technology Centre that is, as you said Vice-Chancellor, is already working. Thank you.