Attitudes to Industry and Industry Year, 1986

In 1976, Dimitri Comino attended a St Georges’ Windsor consultation which discussed the decline of British industrial power, a subject very dear to his heart. He became determined to place the Comino Foundation at the heart of work in changing attitudes to industry and discussed with Kenneth Adams, Director of Studies at St George’s House, how this work could be progressed. This resulted in Kenneth reducing his St George’s role and a Comino Fellowship being established with funding from the Foundation, which modified its Trust Deed by extending the education objectives to include ‘the education of the public in the principles of economics and finance and in their application to industry, commerce and Government’.

Dimitri had hoped that the Comino Fellowship would enable Kenneth to secure a change in attitudes that would contribute to the survival of Britain as an industrial nation, but as an educational charity the work of the Foundation had to concentrate on researching the reasons for industrial decline and then educating people in the research outcomes and what needed to be done if change was to be brought about. This work of the Fellowship gave Dimitri great personal satisfaction and a sense of fulfilment after his retirement from Dexion; it also gave the Foundation’s work a clearer direction.

Kenneth decided that the first task was to research the prime causes of the anti-industrial culture so that these could be explored to see which ones needed to be systematically addressed. His initial consultations concentrated on this analysis and they confirmed that the hostile culture had five themes:

  1. ignorance of the way in which the nation earns its living;
  2. an educational style which elevates theoretical knowledge over its practical application;
  3. disenchantment with some of the ways in which industry operates;
  4. disappointment with British industrial performance;
  5. a moral ambivalence, sustained by the Church, towards wealth creation through industry and commerce.

The sources in UK society of negative attitudes to industry were identified as being politicians and others in public life, the civil service, the media, education, parents (especially mothers), industry itself and the Church. Representatives of all these groups were involved between 1977 and 1979 in nineteen consultations. The anti-industrial culture was explored from many directions with groups that were carefully chosen to debate specific themes.

As a direct result of the consultations numerous industry/education links were forged. One of the most important was the establishment of the Industry/ Education Unit in the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) with Dr Eric Bates seconded from ICI as its Head. The co-operation and support of industry was clearly important and the CBI established Understanding British Industry to promote liaison between industry and secondary schools. Politicians were drawn into the fifth consultation in February 1977 which stimulated the formation of the Industry and Parliament Trust to provide industrial secondments for MPs. This Trust still remains a strong institution. It has provided many MPs with some knowledge of modern industry so that the House of Commons, in which there are very few MPs with an industrial background, has some understanding of industrial practice.

In 1979 Kenneth wrote a review of these consultations under the title ‘Attitudes to Industry in Britain’. His services to St George’s House, both as Director of Studies and as Comino Fellow, were recognised by his appointment as a Companion of the Victorian Order, an appointment which is given on a personal basis by the Queen.

The seventeenth consultation of this series in May 1979 was important because it reviewed the BIM’s report on ‘Industry, Education and Management’. It also brought into focus the Education for Capability project initiated by the Royal Society for the Encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce (RSA), which had been founded in 1754 as the industrial revolution gathered momentum. The RSA’s primary objective was to ‘embolden enterprise’ because its founders believed that industry could be under attack as inhumane but they also resolved to emphasise and maintain the aesthetic and artistic aspects of craftsmanship. Over time the Society became commonly known by its shortened title, the Royal Society of Arts, with its full title now only being used where formality is required. In 1978, the Education for Capability project re-engaged leading industrialists with the Society and revived the emphasis on ‘the value of practical and co-operative skills’.

In 1979 the Comino Fellowship for Kenneth at St George’s House was nearing the end of its three-year period and, although it could have been renewed, Kenneth had realised that the movement to develop and sustain an affirmative culture to industry in the UK required the support of an institution that could be more dedicated to that task. Several institutions were considered and, by common consent, the RSA was selected because it was a well-established, neutral body which had the encouragement of manufacture and commerce written into its title deed. In 1979 the Foundation funded a Comino Foundation Fellowship at the RSA ‘to change the cultural attitude to industry from one of lack of interest or dislike to one of concern and esteem’.

A Comino Fellowship Committee was established at the RSA to monitor the work. Kenneth was very active and kept the committee busy with a stream of lectures, consultations and articles; he also proposed a number of initiatives for RSA sponsorship. The consultations at Windsor continued in parallel and progress was made with the media, where one improvement was the introduction by the BBC of more programmes on industrial topics. The magnitude of the task to change attitudes that was still concerning Kenneth, Dimitri and their colleagues was emphasised by the publication in 1981 of ‘English Culture and the Decline of the Industrial Spirit 1850-1980’ by the American academic, Martin Wiener. This book confirmed the opinions formed in 1975 and supported the need for further action.

In 1983 Kenneth used the consultations, together with the wide network he had established, to crystallize his vision of a year devoted to technology in the service of man. Eventually named ‘Industry Year’, this initiative was supported by Norman Tebbit, the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, plus representatives of industry, education and the media. The Government agreed that Industry Year could be promoted under the umbrella of the RSA who accepted the proposal and appointed Sir Geoffrey Chandler as its Director. Subsequent consultations brought together all the major institutions involved in industry – the CBI, the IoD, the BIM, the TUC and the RSA itself. The RSA’s Comino Fellowship Committee became the Industry and Commerce Committee which then established numerous sub groups to co-ordinate media activities with education, universities, the Church, women’s organisations and other groups in society. The RSA and the Comino Foundation together provided core funding of £250,000 which persuaded the CBI to raise £1 million and Government Departments to provide a further £3 million.

Industry Year was launched in January 1986 based on thirteen Industry Year regions involving some 300 organisations and 40 secondees from industry, with many high profile events which involved amongst others the Queen, Prince Philip and the Prime Minister. The year brought together many people from industry and their local communities and provided useful connections for the formation of the Training and Enterprise Councils in 1990. The most lasting legacy, however, came from the enthusiastic participation of schools. This was subsequently maintained through many industry-related school activities, some of which were organised by Understanding British Industry and Understanding Industry, and also through various initiatives including Young Enterprise.

Although the RSA followed up the 1986 campaign for two years with Industry Matters, activity by the RSA for the promotion of industry then almost ceased. In his inaugural Industry Year lecture to the RSA in 1985, Kenneth had hoped that the RSA, as an institution of independence and repute, would be able to provide a focus, a central point of communication and a meeting place for all those engaged in the task of changing attitudes, and that it would ensure continuity of this movement for change until the task had been completed and the cultural attitude to industry permanently changed. He had envisioned the RSA fulfilling the role for industry in the way that Chatham House9 provides a forum for international issues but, much to the disappointment of both Kenneth and Dimitri, this did not come about.

Kenneth’s Comino Fellowship at the RSA terminated in December 1989 and for a time Kenneth and the Foundation worked on tackling one of the most resistant bastions of the anti-industry culture, namely the Church. He continued his work as Industry Fellow of the Comino Foundation by holding a number of consultations which included a focus on morals and ethics in business and the acceptance of the idea that wealth creation is part of God’s plan, an idea which became a centre of discussion in many Christian institutions.

The work, initiated by Dimitri, which Kenneth had carried out over many years to change attitudes to industry did not go unrecognised. Kenneth was appointed CBE in the 1989 New Year Honours for services to industry, a citation which he greatly appreciated.