Liberal Democrat leader Sir Vince Cable MP has told members of Torbay’s business community to ‘get to grips with reality’ and prepare for the ‘very difficult problems’ ahead.
Addressing more than 80 guests at Torbay Business Forum’s Business Breakfast, the MP for Twickenham, who was the Secretary of State for Business from 2010 to 2015, spoke on issues affecting the South West region and the country as a whole, including the railway network, affordable housing and skills shortages.
In a 25-minute speech at the event at Torquay’s Riviera International Conference Centre on Friday, he said the economy was ‘bumping along’ but there was ‘a loss of business confidence because of the Brexit issue’.
He said: “We had a big devaluation which encourages people to stay at home rather than go abroad for their holidays, and there may have been some benefit to you from that but it makes imports more expensive. Wages are flat and people’s living standards are stagnating or falling. People are borrowing to keep up their spending and we’re seeing a big increase in personal debt.
“The second impact is we’re beginning to see people drifting away from residential homes and hospitals. People who were working here are drifting back home to Eastern Europe. Shortages of labour are becoming a feature of what’s happening.”
He said he has been to this region ‘quite a lot’ and the same issues are brought up each time.
The first issue he raised was the ‘poor’ rail connection. He said: “The problem is Network Rail is privately run but classed as a nationalised industry which means investment in the railways is technically controlled by the Treasury. Investment has been curbed and there is direct competition between projects around the country. The route to the South West is fairly low down the pecking order.
“We desperately need to challenge the Treasury about the way investment is managed. There’s a fixed pot and if one part of the country gets money, another doesn’t. It would make a lot of difference here if we had an effective rail system.”
The second issue was skills shortages, with the risk of losing the people who were coming to the UK from places such as Eastern Europe.
He said: “We need to be giving more priority to education and training. Everyone’s focus is on universities not the vocational side. This whole area of the economy has been starved of resources. Unless we get it sorted out quickly and have proper apprenticeship schemes and proper careers advice and guidance we’re going to suffer with skills shortages.”
The third issue was access to capital. He said many companies are still finding it difficult to get access to capital for investment projects, and said ‘the British banking system isn’t geared up to the interest of small and medium companies’.
The fourth issue he raised was housing, without which it would be difficult to attract people to work in the region. He said ‘people are being driven out’ by high house prices.
He said: “This part of the country, among others, is being crippled by a lack of affordable housing for young people. There must be a much more dramatic commitment to affordable housing than we’re getting. At the moment there isn’t the funding commitment to get developments launched.”
His speech was followed by half a dozen questions from the floor on topics ranging from inflation to the sustainability of the NHS.
Original story by Caroline Abbott on DevonLive
Reproduced by kind permission of author/publisher