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Vince Cable visits Chamber
We hosted a Q&A with Business Secretary Rt Hon Dr Vince Cable on 24 October.
He focused on the challenges for small and medium sized business post economic crisis. The lack of banking support to SMEs, very low interest rates that will be problematic for borrowers once they rise again, the troubled Eurozone and its effect on exporting, and state of the housing market were all flagged for particular concern.
Answering questions from the audience, Dr Cable highlighted what was being done in government to address these issues, underpinned by his department’s Industrial Strategy which has cross party buy in and is the key delivery framework for coming years, providing stability beyond the General Election.
He noted the sustained programme of national apprenticeship schemes, which are now focusing on getting money for apprentices into small businesses.
He welcomed the fact that UKTI is promoting UK SMEs overseas to improve the global supply chain, and that the government is still trying to remove unnecessary regulation and costly bureaucracy for businesses in this country.
When pressed on the FSB’s campaign to get business rates frozen for small businesses, he noted he was lobbying the Chancellor to that end. But he posed the challenge back to the audience – can Chambers of Commerce, the FSB and the business sector consider a more fundamental review of business rates given online retail is growing exponentially? What’s our alternative?
Backing innovation, particularly in science and technology, remains a key priority for BIS, as is improved connectivity. The government has rolled out a vouchers scheme to help businesses access super fast broadband, and he encouraged Chambers of Commerce to support more businesses taking this up.
Lastly, when asked about his party’s controversial decision to increase university fees and its impact, he reported that demand for university places was up, that the university sector now had a stable income stream no longer dependent on public funding, and that universities in general were becoming more focused on getting graduates into jobs than ever before. A political own goal for the Lib Dems perhaps, but in his view, a hugely successful policy decision.