Oh, those meetings! Vince Cable red-faced over error

 

Vince Cable caused confusion today when he wrongly told MPs that a new committee to promote economic growth had not yet held any meetings - even though he has attended two of them.

The Business Secretary, vice chair of the Growth Implementation Committee, was forced to correct his evidence to a select committee after saying: "I can't tell you why that committee has not been convened yet."

The Cabinet committee, set up by Prime Minister David Cameron two months ago to ensure the Government's growth-supporting initiatives are driven through, actually met on September 18 and October 22.

But, appearing before the Business, Innovation and Skills Select Committee today, Dr Cable was asked by Labour MP Ann McKechin about rumours that no meetings had yet been held.

The Liberal Democrat minister appeared to confirm that the committee had not met before playing down its importance to creating growth in the economy.

"I don't think anybody in government or anywhere else would imagine that Cabinet committees drive economic growth - it's there to take check and hold government departments accountable for delivering on those things they've agreed to do," he said.

"It's an important part of the machinery of government but it doesn't drive economic growth. But it's a fair question and I will endeavour to find out why this group has not met."

Later in the same committee, Mr Cable said he needed to "correct the record".

"I readied my memory very quickly and I couldn't recall meetings of the committee. There were in fact two, on September 18 and October 22, so that committee is operating and has met," he said.

Downing Street also told reporters today that there had been two meetings of the growth committee.

"That committee was set up to chase implementation in Whitehall departments. It is something (the Prime Minister) has brought to the full Cabinet on a number of occasions," Mr Cameron's official spokesman said.

"This is an important part of the process of government. It is not a committee that meets in order to generate announcements. It is a committee that meets in order to ensure that departments are delivering on their commitments."

The Business Secretary also said he was "very concerned" about problems in the construction industry and said people should not get "carried away" after last week's GDP figures indicating that the economy had emerged from the double-dip recession.

While the overall UK economy grew by 1% in the third quarter, the important construction sector fell by 2.5%

Asked about that discrepancy, Mr Cable said: "I am very concerned."

He also pointed to other areas which were holding back growth.

"There are some positive signals - the most recent GDP figures, reduced unemployment, reduced inflation, but we certainly shouldn't get carried away," he said.

"There are a lot of problems in our major export markets, we have serious problems with bank lending continuing, particularly in the SME sector, and we have a lot of the legacy problems of the collapsed property bubble, one of which is on the construction industry."

He said construction was suffering because banks were no longer willing to lend to the housing and commercial property markets which had "tanked very badly" and were seen as a negative equity risk.

He said the "tight control" of capital spending by both the coalition and the last Labour government had also hit construction.

"That's been another factor that's played into that sector in a negative way," he said.

PA

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