Attitudes to Industry – Industry Year 1986

In 1976, after a consultation at St George’s House, Windsor Castle, in which delegates discussed the decline of British industrial power, Dimitri became determined to place the Comino Foundation at the heart of work focussed on changing attitudes to industry.  He discussed with Kenneth Adams, then Director of Studies at St George’s House, how this work could be progressed. This resulted in Kenneth accepting a Comino Fellowship, established with funding from the Foundation, which had 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’.

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 to achieve change. This work 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 Adams decided that the first task was to research the prime causes of the anti-industrial culture. Five themes emerged from his initial consultations

  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.

Key sources of negative attitudes to industry in the UK were thought to be 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 in nineteen consultations between 1977 and 1979. The anti-industrial culture was explored with groups carefully chosen to debate specific themes.  As a direct result 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 CBI was persuaded to establish Understanding British Industry (UBI) to promote liaison between schools and industry. Politicians were drawn into the fifth consultation in February 1977 which stimulated the formation of the Industry and Parliament Trust: “an independent, non-lobbying, non-partisan charity that provides a trusted platform of engagement between Parliament and UK business”

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 monarch.

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 RSA (Royal Society for the Encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce) 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 though industry was sometimes attacked as “inhumane” the aesthetic and artistic aspects of manufacture should be recognised and celebrated. Over time the RSA has become commonly known by its shortened title, the Royal Society of Arts, with its full title only being used where formality is required. In 1978, Education for Capability re-engaged leading industrialists with the Society and revived the emphasis on ‘the value of practical and co-operative skills’.

In 1979 Kenneth recommended that the movement to develop and sustain an affirmative culture to industry in the UK required the support of an institution that could be fully dedicated to that task. The RSA was selected, as a well-established, neutral body which had the encouragement of manufacture and commerce written into its title deed. So, in 1979 the Comino Foundation funded a Comino 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 several 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 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.

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 the government, as well as 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 testablished 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 helped persuade 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 involving, in which Queen Elizabeth II, Prince Philip and the Prime Minister participated. 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 enthusiastic participation of schools was supported through many industry-related school activities, some of which were organised by Understanding British Industry and Understanding Industry, and various initiatives including Young Enterprise and the Teacher Placement Service.