Chris Fox writes … My primary aim will be to promote engineering in the UK

House of Lords chamberChris Fox – Lord Fox, of Leominster in the County of Herefordshire – was one of six new Lib Dem peers announced in August. 

When I walked off the street and joined the Liberal Party in Leominster on my way home from school my aim was to help Roger Pincham in his campaign to win a seat in Westminster. With two elections that year we had plenty to do, and came so very close to winning. At that time, 40 years ago, Parliament seemed a world away and I would not have believed that today I would be preparing for the honour of taking a seat in the House of Lords.

Over those 40 years I have spent time as a Party activist, candidate, councillor and employee, but after I graduated from Imperial College I have also worked in a succession of industries both as an engineer and latterly in communications. Although my activities have varied in product and market, the thread that has united them has been the application of technology to make things. And central to successfully achieving this is the role played by engineers and technicians.

Britain has seen many changes in fortune to its advanced manufacturing base, yet today there seems broad agreement that the country’s success is enhanced by the scale and success of these activities. And to do that we need people with the necessary skills and ambition.

So when I take my seat, after first working hard with the help of colleagues to understand the process and ethos of the House, my primary aim will be to apply my experience in the world of manufacturing to work with others to help promote engineering in the UK.

Across British life people are already building consensus to encourage school students to study science and maths, working to expand the cadre of UK science and engineering graduates and growing the number of manufacturing apprentices and trained technicians. I aim to help them achieve this.

* Chris Fox is the former Chief Executive of the Liberal Democrats. He was made a peer in August 2014

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13 Comments

  • Richard Dean 29th Sep '14 - 12:47pm

    There are all sorts of engineers, including mechanical engineers, electrical engineers, software engineers, social engineers, hydraulic engineers, and in my case civil engineers. All these skills are needed in today’s sophisticated environment. I recommend the Institution of Civil Engineers’ (http://www.ice.org.uk/) and particularly their State of the Nation report on national infrastructure spending needs (http://www.ice.org.uk/stateofthenation)

  • Good luck with your work. I hope that you ae able to change the emphasis in schools so that girls study STEM subjects beyond GCSE and go through to work in STEM disciplines in the economy .

  • What would increase engineers are the following:-
    1. Only 60% of comprehensives offer Further Maths A Level. Make sure all comprehensive pupils receive Further Maths teaching by a mathematician , physicist , numerate scientists or engineer.
    2. Those at public schools take twice as many Maths and Science A Levels as those at comprehensives.
    3. Ensure all people in the UK live within 1 hours travel of a University Technical College.
    If we want German manufacturing , we need a German technical education.

  • Matthew Huntbach 29th Sep '14 - 11:29pm

    Charlie

    Make sure all comprehensive pupils receive Further Maths teaching by a mathematician , physicist , numerate scientists or engineer.

    How? There are not enough such people to go round, especially such people who are prepared to work as teachers.

  • Peter Watson 30th Sep '14 - 7:55am

    @Charlie “Make sure all comprehensive pupils receive Further Maths teaching”
    By the time children are choosing A-levels and deciding whether or not to do Further Maths, they have already made decisions about their future careers, and whether or not maths is for them. This is likely to become worse as the Coalition’s changes to A-levels make it harder to do a broad range of subjects (i.e. start 4 at AS and then drop one for A2).
    My suggestion would be to encourage a wider range of study at 16-18, encouraging more children to continue to study maths, science, humanities, etc. A foundation year for those progressing to university would be the next step towards specialisation at degree-level. This could allow better-informed 17-18 year olds to be choosing their future careers, rather than 15-16 year olds having to make choices that restrict their options in the future.

  • Tony Rowan-Wicks 30th Sep '14 - 9:58am

    Great idea Chris and as the comments reveal – yours is not only an ambitious aim but it will be difficult to gain headway.

    As a retired Head of Secondary School I like others above, found the constant changes in educational emphasis, brought about by successive central governments, was and remains the major reason for educational muddle in England and Wales [I cannot speak for the other members of UK which have more local control ]. Teachers, parents and students long for a return to education based on a consensus which is agreed and maintained in a manner which was clear in the days of local Education Authorities. I believe it is the tinkering by Central Government itself which creates much of the muddle – and prevents educational stability sufficient to develop a balanced economy and social structures for which UK used to be known throughout the world. I don’t see any government giving up its muddling controls – unless we actually run the country by consensus too – with STV etc. suitable for a modern society. Dreaming!

  • Ruwan Kodikara 30th Sep '14 - 10:44am

    Fantastic news! It will be a huge asset having you in the Lords as a working peer. The party has long championed engineering and manufacturing – supporting apprenticeships, R&D, exports thanks to being members of EU. Manufacturing and engineering is so crucial to rebalancing the economy and making regional economies more sustainable it needs a long term approach… Something you’ll hopefully be able to support in the Lords.

  • Peter Watson

    Good comment . I think there is a need to look at 3 year A levels and or a foundation course for which there is a historical precedent.
    1. There used to be seventh term scholarship exams for Oxbridge and other universities.
    2. There used to be foundation /conversion years for those who had taken art A Levels but who wanted to read medicine. People would attend university for a foundation year and if they passed the exams would pass onto the degree.
    3. There used to upper fifth years for those who had done badly on their O levels or wanted to sit additional ones.
    4. Most maths and science A levels are not much more difficult than old Additional O Levels. One of the reason why Britain produced so many top scientists and cheaply was that old S Levels/ Scholarship exams was first year degree standard most polys and foreign universities. Consequently two years at Cambridge/IC was basically the B.Sc and the final year was more or less a masters. What has happened is that a 3 year degree has become 4 years. The UK system enabled people to pass from B.Sc to doctorates without a M.Sc . William Penney, Rector IC obtained his doctorate at 22!
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/William_Penney,_Baron_Penney

    If 3 year A level was introduced with the final year being Oxbridge Scholarship/ S Level , then 4 year degree would revert to 3 years: which would be much cheaper for students. If polys offered night school, then the degree exams offered by the Chartered Engineering Bodies( civil. mech, electrical ) and the Royal Society of Chemistry would enable people to obtain HNC or degree level exams without going to university. Many top engineers ( Wallis, Mitchell and Chadwick) left school at 16, obtained apprenticeships and then studied for chartership exams at night school. Many very good chemists started on the bench at 16 or 18 and then studied for RSC exams ( HNC or degree ) at night school.

    If a comprehensive lacks ability to teach A levls to high enough standard , then the pupils should attend local public or grammar school- this has already occurred in certain areas.

    What we need to look at is how can engineering and scientific excellence be achieved as cheaply and quickly as possible. Many years ago directors of Ready Mixed Concrete wanted to return to the tradition of the best apprentices being paid to attend night school and become charted engineers because so many graduates faces “did not fit in on site”.

    Engineering , technology and applied science requires the individual to combine academic ability with practical experience which can often be best achieved by having good academic training to 16 or 18, take up an apprenticeship and then undertake Chartership training at a poly.

  • peter tyzack 30th Sep '14 - 3:55pm

    perhaps you would be prepared to speak in the House about the true meaning of the term ‘the 3 Rs’.. no it’s not ‘reading, riting and rithmetic’ it is ‘Reading, Reckoning and Roughting’.. (as in wrought iron) ie creating in 3 dimensions… when the balance between the three is there then the individual is whole.

  • Stephen Hesketh 30th Sep '14 - 7:15pm

    @David Pollard 29th Sep ’14 – 10:02am

    “We find difficulty getting the attention of the party leadership stuffed as they are with arts graduates and lawyers”

    Sadly not just our party leadership David … other party leaderships, Parliament, the media … shaking head as he types.

    Good wishes and luck to the noble Lord Fox – please spare a thought for the scientists as well!

  • Thanks for your comments – all excellent food for thought. I am on a working party organised by the Royal Academy of Engineering and Engineering UK and the scale of the task is huge. There will be no single solution and do please keep your ideas coming.

  • alan horsell 8th Nov '14 - 4:35pm

    I am a lib demmer simply because I do not trust any other party. I am disappointed at the lack of policy on the NHS, Social services, education, law, police, public transport, employment etc etc. Instead we worry and waste our breath on UKIP and the green party, why? The electorate is desperate for a party that gives them what they want, not the wishy washy fringe policies we have been offered by our current leaders. Where is the import displaced policy to boost our economy at the expense of the Tory barons; where are the innovative employment laws that displace decades of unemployment and bad employment; where is the management reform to improve efficiency among General Practitioners and hospitals and social services; where is the reform of law and the police that are supposed to maintain it; where is the reform in education that allows teachers to aspire to the highest standards instead of looking over their shoulder. There is so much to do and no one doing it, just MPs taking credit when they can whilst offering excuses and punting at opposition whilst ignoring the working population. The LIbDems are the only party that can do all this if they stop sleep walking and begin to listen to the real problems.

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