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Outlook: Brown budget

BRITAIN'S POOR record of productivity and innovation in industry has been blamed on many things since Gordon Brown began to highlight the issue about a year ago. Management has been blamed, the workers have been blamed, the strong pound and high interest rates go without saying. McKinsey reckoned it was all down to restrictive practices, overregulation and planning restrictions. And so on and so forth.

But hold on, isn't there something missing here? What about the City and the banking system? Aren't they always to blame? On cue, Gordon Brown yesterday appointed the luckless former telecoms regulator Don Cruickshank (ex-McKinsey, of course) to head "a wide ranging review of the banking system". His brief is not just to look into whether the banks "could do more to build on their partnership with growing business", but also to examine competition and efficiency within the banking industry itself.

There is an uncanny throwback to the past here. Harold Wilson appointed a Royal Commission to prove his belief that the City was responsible for Britain's post-war decline. Annoyingly for Lord Wilson, it found the Square Mile to be blameless.

Mr Cruickshank's review, though "wideranging", is less ambitious, but the intent is probably still the same. As are likely to be his conclusions. There is a lot wrong with our banks, but they are not the cause of Britain's lack of entrepreneurialism. Most bankers are just dying to lend to sound, innovative business propositions. The trouble is not that bankers won't lend to these wealth creators, but that there aren't enough of them.

To be fair, Mr Brown seems to be making all the right noises on enterprise and innovation. Taking a leaf out of Sir Clive Thompson's book, he even talks about tackling red tape and bureaucracy. But in the end, none of this is anything more than tinkering at the edges. It is on Mr Brown's policies for monetary and fiscal stability that an enterprise culture will ultimately succeed or fail.