The National Enterprise Board (NEB) was a United Kingdom government body. It was set up in 1975 by the Labour government of Harold Wilson, to support the government's interventionist approach to industry. In 1981 the Conservative government of Margaret Thatcher, combined the NEB with the National Research Development Corporation (NRDC) to form the British Technology Group.
The NEB was the brainchild of the economist Stuart Holland and the Shadow Secretary of State for Industry Tony Benn in the early-1970s, and was modelled on the Italian Istituto per la Ricostruzione Industriale (IRI), which was seen to have successfully restructured the Italian economy after World War II. In its original conception, the NEB was intended to extend public control and ownership of the economy, by taking a stake in the UK's leading manufacturing firms, which would then be required to make planning agreements to meet economic targets. Although the leadership of the Labour Party did not fully accept these proposals, they appeared in the Labour Party's manifesto for the February 1974 general election.
Its primary role was that of holding a substantial level of equity in major manufacturing companies. In its final form the NEB was watered down from its original proposals, with planning agreements being made voluntary instead of compulsory. It took equity in various companies including British Leyland, Rolls Royce, Alfred Herbert, Sinclair Radionics and Ferranti.
In 1975 the NEB bailed out the struggling electronics firm Ferranti and effectively nationalised it, acquiring a 65% share of the company. This was returned to the private sector in 1980 as a profitable company.
After the Conservative Party took power in 1979 under Margaret Thatcher's leadership, the NEB's powers began to be eroded. The last Labour-appointed chairman of the NEB was Sir Leslie Murphy, who resigned with his entire board when Sir Keith Joseph (the new industry minister) decided to remove its responsibility for the government's holding in Rolls-Royce later that year.
The next chairman was Sir Arthur Knight who was content to lose a number of companies, but strongly supported the Inmos microchip project. However he eventually became frustrated by the government and resigned in November 1980. The 1980 Industry Act and new Guidelines had restricted the NEB role to a catalytic investment role, nationally and regionally, particularly related to advanced technology and small firms.
In 1992 BTG was transferred to the private sector and in 1995 listed on the London stock exchange as BTG plc, when it became a leading technology transfer company that commercialised intellectual property acquired from research organisations and companies around the world.
List of chairmen
- 1975–1977: Lord Ryder
- 1977–1979: Sir Leslie Murphy
- 1979–1980: Sir Arthur Knight
- 1980–1981: Sir John King
- 1981: Sir Frederick Wood
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