Business leaders speak out ahead of Vince Cable’s visit to East Anglia

Vince Cable, Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills talks during the Federation of S

Vince Cable, Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills talks during the Federation of Small Businesses Conference 2013 at The Curve, Leicester. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Friday March 22, 2013. See PA story INDUSTRY Business. Photo credit should read: Joe Giddens/PA Wire - Credit: PA

Today, business secretary Vince Cable descends on Norfolk to launch the New Anglia LEP's Growing Business Fund. But with traders facing problems with infrastructure, business rates and lending, reporter Ben Woods has asked business leaders to have their say on how Dr Cable can help Norfolk and Suffolk.

Skills and jobs

Dick Palmer, City College Norwich, said: 'One of the questions I would ask him would be to give some clarity around the New Anglia Local Enterprise Partnership's local skills strategy.

'We want to know the LEP and colleges can work together to develop the right sort of people that businesses need.

'When it comes to apprenticeships, there has been a huge amount of movement from the government. City College Norwich has seen apprenticeship programmes rise from 200 to 1,000, which have been supported by the government and subsidies.

'But the key question to Dr Cable would be, why is the government retracting the number of opportunities for older people to retrain and get people back into the workplace? Because they have retracted the subsidies, which encourage them to do so.

'In the last 10 years, City College Norwich has gone from 10,000 adults to about 4,000 adults and that is not because we are offering the wrong courses.

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'We recognise that there is no money around, but we think there could be more inventive ways to support adult learning.

'At the moment if an adult student comes to the college over 24 years old the government pays a portion of the student fees.

'But from September the college will get nothing from the government. We are anxious this could lead to a marked reduction in older students.'

The High Street

Adrian Fennell, partner at independent commercial property specialists Roche, said: 'I would not be asking Vince Cable to reinvent the wheel. It is a case of doing things that people talk about. Norwich at the moment is reasonably robust, but if you look at the smaller towns around Norfolk, they are all suffering to a varying degree.

'Why are they suffering? Because there are simply not enough people spending in the shops. One of the smallest ways to address this would be through car parking. Subsidised car parking for shoppers would get more people into towns. When people go to Great Yarmouth, do they want to pay £5 for car parking and then spend £5 in Poundland? It is a big disincentive.

'And when you are going to increase the business rates, which they are going to do, this is a fix that they could easily afford.'

Infrastructure and business

Caroline Williams, chief executive of Norfolk Chamber of Commerce, said: 'We are looking for Mr Cable to confirm that cash will be made available for the A47 improvements, that business rate relief within the Enterprise Zone will be extended to 2018, decisions relating to market certainty and offshore wind will be fast-tracked, the advanced manufacturing supply chain initiative minimum threshold will be reduced from £1m and the eligibility will be changed to enable businesses to receive funding if they have employed an apprentice within 12 months.

'It is essential that when Vince Cable leaves Norfolk he has a clear understanding from the business community that improvements to the A47 are no longer a 'nice to have' but are necessary for Norfolk to achieve its economic growth potential.'

Small businesses

Peter Martin, the regional treasurer for the Federation of Small Businesses, said: 'I think finance has to be the starting point. The first thing we would like Vince Cable to do is to give the Financial Services Authority and the banks a bit of a hurrying along for those people being missold insurance rate swaps.

'While some banks have deferred payments, others have not. We have seen businesses with huge financial problems from something they should never have had in the first place. Some businesses are having to lay off staff because they cannot stop paying it.

'Meanwhile, we would like Dr Cable to provide more clarity around the business bank and how it will work. If there was a way in which money could go directly to businesses, that would be great, but the government will not want to do that.

'If it operated in a similar way to how the Cambridge and Counties Bank works. They are charging 5pc on interest rates, which is backed by a pension fund. They are looking for businesses which want to grow.

'We would also like businesses to look at the issues surrounding regulation. We were told by the government that when a new piece of legislation came in, another piece would be taken away.

'At the moment, we are over-regulated. The French and the Spanish don't over-regulate because it holds up their business.'