How the Government should reshape the Duke of Edinburgh's 'pull your finger out' remarks for the North - Mark Casci

The Duke of Edinburgh left his mark on virtually every aspect of British society. Of course he will always and rightly be remembered foremost for his unwavering and steadfast support to the Queen during her 69 year reign, something she has acknowledged on multiple occasions.

His lifelong interest in physical exercise and personal achievement has led to the creation of countless playing fields which will have changed the lives of millions. The award which bears his name likewise has transformed the futures of generations of young people.

However his impact on business and industry is perhaps less celebrated, in spite of his numerous interventions to make our economy more effective.

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The Duke held a passionate interest in industry. In 2016 he told the BBC that following the end of World War II, the country was, as he put it, “completely skint”, adding “the only way we were going to recover was through engineering”.

The Duke was a champion of British industry.

The Royal Academy of Engineering which he initiated and remained a senior fellow of until his death, will remain amongst his most enduring legacies. His presidency of the Council of Engineering Institutions (CEI) created a path for thousands of engineers, anywhere in the profession, to reach professional status. And in Yorkshire, with an economy forged in its engineering excellence, this legacy is palpable.

Indeed upon his death, the now president of the Royal Academy of Engineering, Professor Sir Jim McDonald, paid tribute to the Duke, saying: “We will always be indebted to Prince Philip for his active interest in engineering and technology.

“His genuine enjoyment and passion for engineering were evident in his many visits to the Academy and his typically challenging discussions with the engineers he met.”

He added that: “No organisation could possibly have wished for a better informed or more enthusiastic patron than Prince Philip and the world of engineering will be much the poorer without his wise counsel and encouragement.”

The Duke of Edinburgh who passed away at age 99.

Prince Philip also led by example. Fascinated by modern technology, it was he rather than his children who embraced new innovations, being the first in the Royal household to utilise a word processor and the internet.

As the London-based media rolled out a patronising list of his so-called “gaffes” during his lifetime in the wake of his death, it was his remarks to the Industrial Co-Partnership Association in 1961 which piqued my interest most.

As he decried what he considered to be Britain’s inefficient industries in that period he memorably advised those present that “Gentlemen, I think it is time we pulled our fingers out”.

On the face of it, one can see why this statement would have put noses out of joint. A former Naval officer and the descendent of European royalty, you can imagine industrialists of the time taking umbrage at these remarks from a man who lived in a palace.

The Duke will best be remembered for this support to the Queen.

But the wider point has echoed through the ages and stands to this day, although with a different complexity. I have long bemoaned the poor levels of productivity seen in our regional and wider economy.

Only Wales has lower levels of productivity than Yorkshire. The fault for this lies not with some kind of inherent idleness amongst our workforce but rather in circumstances not of its making. Poor transport and digital connectivity makes it difficult for vast swathes of economy to compete. Inadequate access to training and flaws in our education system also contribute.

While industry undoubtedly has a role to play in reversing this inequality, the lion’s share of the responsibility lies with our national Government which has for decades prioritised the economic wellbeing of the South East ahead of the rest of the nation.

Perhaps, if it heeded the Duke’s call to pull its finger out, we could establish a UK economy firing on all cylinders and which utilises, rather than stifles, its grand potential.