Last night I attended the Edinburgh Chamber of Commerce event: ‘An Audience with Dr Vince Cable MP’ at the George Hotel.
It was billed in the invitation as a chance to hear the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills and the President of the Board of Trade outline his department’s strategy for supporting and developing business. In particular he was due to outline how he was going to remove some of the unnecessary red tape that is holding back business growth and encourage entrepreneurship and small enterprise.
Sounded right up my street so I diligently booked my place and headed down suited and booted to the opulent George Hotel. The first thing that struck me as I walked into the event was the lack of variety in the attendees, mainly middle aged white men. Whilst the audience can’t really be classed as a true sample of the Edinburgh business world it did make me feel a tad disappointed that we are in 2011 and there was a distinct lack of women or ethnic minorities represented.
However what was more important than the make up of the crowd was what Dr Cable actually had to say and how he was going to help me move Border Crossing Media forwards. I was looking forward to hearing about progressive and innovative initiatives that would help me grow my business and give me faith in the UK economy. Unfortunately what I mainly heard where run of the mill policies and a politician towing the party line about their vision or ‘rebalancing’ the UK’s economy through manufacturing, export and a green economy.
Following a small gaff of referring to the Scottish Parliament as the ‘Scottish Assembly’ we discovered that a large proportion of the department that Dr Cable is in change of has in fact been devolved. This seemed to make a lot of the rest of the session turn into ‘What we do in England’ vs ‘What you do in Scotland’. This is to an extent interesting but only if there is some level of debate as to which methods are successfully encouraging growth.
Here are my highlights of the speech:
- The Coalition: According to Dr Cable it was necessary for the Liberal Democrats to form a coalition with the Conservatives as it was the only viable option for a stable UK following the ‘massive economic shock’. He claims that the Liberal Democrats have been able to use their position in the coalition to moderate key Conservative policies such as lifting the threshold for income tax and re-establishing the link between pensions and earnings.
- Economic Policy: Following the ‘heart attack’ of the economy 2-3 years ago, that was caused by both international and national influences, the ‘over-weight’ banking system has collapsed. The cost of the collapse of the bank and the decline in the UK’s GDP has left the largest Government deficit in the World. To combat the economic climate the coalition has developed a 5 year budget-level discipline to ‘rebalance’ the UK’s economy by focusing on the manufacturing and export industry and moving the focus of the UK’s industry away from London and the South East.
- Banking: The banking collapse has meant that the banks have become more risk adverse and this has caused a severe lack of access to financing for businesses. The Mervyn agreement should help SMEs to gain some level of finance from the banks and the government has increased the business growth fund. There has also been a new portfolio of trade finance packages as of the 1st of April that should help businesses with the finance that they are lacking. The next step will be looking at breaking up the large banks such as the Lloyd’s Banking Group and separating retail and investment banking.
- Regulations: There are currently more than 22,000 statutory instruments that apply to the business community and this excess of regulations is strongly inhibiting growth. The coalition are going to stop the in flow of new regulations, challenge the old regulations and start a ‘one-in, one-out’ policy where any new regulation must replace an old regulation of comparable value.
- The Green Investment Bank: a new government initiative that will leverage private capital for high risk projects. The bank will start with a three billion pound fund which will rise to fifteen billion pounds. The location of the new bank has not been determined and there were a few comments about it potentially being based in Edinburgh (not sure how true that is but it’s a nice carrot).
So how relevant was the session to me and Border Crossing Media? In truth only partly. Whilst the evening was billed as important for SMEs there was a disconnect between the initiatives being introduced and the business community in Edinburgh. Don’t get me wrong I think that an increase in manufacturing is vital to a stable economy but when it currently represents only 3.7% of the local industry how relevant is it to Edinburgh’s economic growth? It became apparent that a lot of the initiatives that are encouraging growth in SMEs and enterprise in Edinburgh are actually backed by the Scottish Parliament and are more knowledge based. Hence it might have been better to hear how Westminster is going to support the knowledge rich businesses as well as the manufacturers.
All in all I am glad I went along but the event certainly offered me no real insight or advice as to how the Government will support our business growth. Perhaps more importantly I left with no more confidence in the coalition government or the Liberal Democrats as a party. I thought that the evening was bland and all efforts were made to remove any of the controversy we have seen in the media between Dr Cable and his Conservative counterparts. This left me feeling disappointed, personally, in Dr Cable for being more concerned about the coalitions reputation rather than sparking a stimulating debate on how we can grow our economy.
***Please Note: Whilst I have tried to take my personal political feelings out of this they may have crept in. These opinions are mine solely and do not represent the opinions of Border Crossing Media***