VIDEO UPDATE: Business secretary Vince Cable tells conference that Norfolk firms will play a key role in re-balancing the economy
Business secretary Vince Cable said Norfolk companies are crucial to the government's efforts to rebalance the economy and the county was well-placed to help realise that vision.
Despite a week which has seen growth forecasts downgraded, and dire warnings about the state of the eurozone sparking calls by the Bank of England Governor Sir Mervyn King on banks to build up reserves, Dr Cable said he was optimistic that this country would pull through.
Speaking at the Unlocking Growth Conference in Norwich today, he told an audience of more than 200 leading business figures that the building blocks were in place for the recovery and that the small and medium sized firms in this area were key to achieving that.
'If we are going to get ourselves out of this mess quickly, the growth in this country isn't going to come from London,' he said. 'If we are going to get sustainable growth it's going to come from here and Cornwall where I was yesterday (Thursday), and Yorkshire, where I was brought up.'
He told delegates that the UK financial system had suffered the equivalent of a massive heart attack, which did enormous damage to the economy.
But Norfolk had 'real clusters' of economic activity with potential, including the Great Yarmouth and Lowestoft Enterprise zone, Lotus Cars, and the Norwich Research Park, all three of which had received various forms of government support.
'Good, positive things are happening in this part of the world, that will contribute towards the recovery,' he said. 'There's the largest concentration of life science related activities in Europe based around the Norwich Research Park. There's the advanced manufacturing at Lotus, which is going to double its production, and another area this region does particularly well is off the back of off shore developments in the North Sea, which is one of the reasons Lowestoft and Great Yarmouth has got the enterprise zone. One thing that doesn't show up in the figures, but there is a lot of anecdotal evidence support it, is the creative industries.'
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He said the real dynamic was going to come from small and medium sized businesses
'They are the companies that are creating jobs, what we need to do is create an environment in which smallscale businesses are comfortable investing and expanding. I realise there are impediments, not least a lack of confidence in the big economic picture... but we can put in place the building blocks
'I am not worried, I'm optimistic. We've got to shift the economy towards exporting and investing, and certainly in the East of England and the Norfolk area, there is a lot of potential.'
But he agreed more could be done to improve communications.
'Travelling up the A11 is a bit of a nightmare, and I was stuck behind a lorry for 15 miles, but we've made a commitment to dual that road,' he added.
The conference also heard from speakers including New Anglia chairman Andy Wood, Davina Tanner, Norfolk Chamber president and general manager of Chapelfield Shopping Centre, Johnny Hustler, managing director of EDP publisher Archant Anglia, and Norwich City Football Club chief executive David McNally.
Mr McNally, said in these tough times great customer service and great recruitment were crucial in seeing businesses through.
'These are the most difficult conditions we have ever faced,' he said. 'Most markets are declining, that means customers have less cash. They do not share your optimism, they are the most nervous they have ever been.'
Caroline Williams, chief executive of the Norfolk Chamber, which organised the conference said: 'I think there is a realisation it's going to be difficult, but I think Norfolk is better placed than many other parts of the UK, because we have got a mixed economy, we are not just reliant on one big industry.
'But what business wants is some certainty, so once the government says what they are going to do, they should stick to it. The worst thing for business confidence is if they change halfway through.'