Britain’s next prime minister must back a £4bn retraining and investment programme for areas where jobs could be wiped out by automation.
A new report by the centre-right think tank Onward, backed by Tory leadership candidate Jeremy Hunt and Boris Johnson supporter Matt Hancock, calls for a new £0.9bn ‘retraining tax credit’ scheme.
Workers in at-risk industries, such as retail and telesales, should have a protected ‘right to retrain’ and £1bn should be fenced off from the apprenticeship levy for up-skilling, the report says.
The ‘Human Capital’ research also highlights major concerns about Brexit-backing industrial areas, such as Wales and the North East, and recommends using £2.4bn of repatriated EU funding post-Brexit to offer regional tax breaks to boost business investment.
Will Tanner, director of Onward, said the UK’s next leader must protect the UK from rapid technological change or risk exacerbating inequality.
“Without concerted action, automation and technological change will widen Britain’s Brexit divisions and hold back low-skilled people and places increasingly excluded from Britain’s future,” he said.
“We need a full blown retraining revolution - to encourage firms to invest in their workers, support the lowest-skilled to find more secure jobs, and bring high-growth employment to places with lagging productivity.”
Foreign secretary Hunt, who is running against Johnson in the race to replace Theresa May, will appear at an event on Wednesday to endorse Onward’s report.
“Technological advances will bring huge opportunities but we must equip everyone in our country with the skills they need to benefit from them,” he said. “Only by ensuring we leave no communities, regions or sectors behind will we deliver the economic renewal and higher growth on which our shared goals.”
Health and Social Care Secretary Matt Hancock, who was an early candidate to be leader but who has now thrown his weight behind Johnson’s campaign, will also be at the event.
He said: “Automation and technological innovation are having a transformative impact on our economy, our jobs and our daily lives.
“Britain has a bright future ahead if we choose to seize these opportunities - but we must make sure we take everyone with us and don’t leave anyone behind. Everyone has a contribution of value to make and it is our task in Government to give everyone the support - and freedom - to succeed.”
Onward underlines that more than a quarter (27.5%) of workers with low or no skills are employed in roles likely to be automated in the future.
At-risk workers are also more likely to be women and from an ethnic minority, the report says.
Only two in 10 women work in industries with growing employment, compared to four in 10 men.
Black women are less likely than any other group to be working in a growth industry, regardless of their education, the report adds.
The think tank also points out to the leadership candidates that of the 50 areas most at risk from automation, 48 voted Leave and 43 voted for the Brexit Party in May’s European elections.
The list of areas most affected by automation includes many of the likely target seats for the Brexit Party in a future general election, it adds, such as Corby, Boston and Skegness, Great Grimsby and Mansfield.