'Star chamber' to foster UK growth

Sean O'Grady
Monday 29 November 2010 01:00

Cabinet ministers will be "held to account" for the efforts their departments make to secure economic growth, the Business Secretary, Vince Cable has said.

Launching a new growth strategy for Government today, Mr Cable says that a "star chamber", consisting of himself and the Chancellor, George Osborne, will review the actions of departments of state to foster economic expansion and move the agenda away from cuts and austerity.

Mr Cable believes that the new initiative will help to show that the UK can grow again, but "differently" – with more emphasis on environmental sustainability.

In the shorter run, though, attention will focus on the Office for Budget Responsibility, which is due to publish new forecasts for UK growth today. The original OBR estimate for growth this year has already been exceeded so will be revised upwards; there may be a more modest revision to subsequent years.

Mr Osborne will reveal a reinstated Autumn Statement as well, a more low-key affair than the Pre-Budget Reports introduced by Gordon Brown and Alistair Darling. Growth will be a key theme, and the Government is sensitive to claims that the private sector will be unable to create the jobs required to match the loss of almost half a million in the public sector by 2015, plus subsequent knock-on redundancies in the wider economy. An upbeat "growth story" is seen as essential to the Government's credibility.

As small and medium sized enterprises face continuing problems with bank funding, ministers hope that the UK will become the most attractive developed economy in the world for early-stage and venture capital investment in smaller firms.

In particular, the Government is seeking to stimulate the creative industries, professional services, advanced manufacturing, health and life sciences, and retail areas, where Mr Cable says the UK demonstrates a competitive advantage.

"Government doesn't create jobs and growth, the private sector does. We want to set up a process that helps to make things happen."

Taking the creative industries as an example, the Business Secretary says that he wants to get people from the fields of music, film, fashion and architecture to tell his department and the Department for Media Culture and Sport what they think the Government can do to help them grow their businesses and activities.

"We need to get them round the table, and this has never been done in that sphere. We will sit down and go through what the problems are and how we can do more. That might include areas such as migration and skills, for example".

Mr Cable suggested that the restoration of the British Film Council, soon to be abolished, would be top of their agenda.

Rejecting the charge that he was merely trying to reinstate the sort of corporatism and "picking winners" approach from the 1970s, Mr Cable said that, for example, the trade unions will not be "round the table" as of right, though he was "generally happy to involve them".

The Business Secretary confirmed that, as part of the advanced manufacturing strategy, the Government would maintain its commitment to low-carbon vehicles, such as the production of the new Nissan Leaf electric car in Sunderland.

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