Cable should concentrate on promoting growth not Goa

Goan sausages rather than growth seem to be on business secretary Vince Cable’s mind, with only one of 50 Regional Growth Fund projects green lighted by BIS.

Goan sausages rather than growth seem to be on business secretary Vince Cable’s mind, with only one of 50 Regional Growth Fund projects green lighted by BIS, writes Kevin Meagher

Despite today’s depressing confirmation that Q2 growth was a measly 0.2%, officials at the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) appear unfazed by the need for urgent action. The Local Government Chronicle reports just one of the 50 successful bids to the first round of the Regional Growth Fund announced back in April has actually been green-lighted. The remaining 49 bids are still undergoing “due diligence” tests by departmental officials.

The RGF is the £1.4 billion pot designed to bolster the private sector in areas affected by public spending cuts following the government’s myopic decision to scrap the eight English regional development agencies. The first round of bidding was oversubscribed with just 50 projects out of the 464 submitted being approved. Clearly officials have a duty to ensure value for money – but they should have factored in how long it would take to approve and then assess bids.

As Tony Dolphin put it on Left Foot Forward this morning, we are “almighty close” to a double-dip recession and there should be no unnecessary delays in pulling levers that will stimulate activity and avert the likelihood of further economic pain.

Many of the areas desperately waiting for RGF money to come through in order fund vital job-creating projects are already effectively in recession. With national growth so low – and with London and the South East driving what little growth there is – other parts of the country are already seriously lagging behind.

The RGF – worth just a third of the money spent by Labour’s Regional Development Agencies – is a desperately needed economic lifeline. But all the department can offer by way of a timeframe is that it expects more of the bids to be approved “in the autumn”.

Shadow business minister Gordon Marsden blasted the department for dragging its feet:

“You might have thought given the stagnation in government growth policies that this would be a top priority for the business department, but in fact they appear to be asleep at the wheel just when England’s regions are crying out for this investment.”

Meanwhile the man in charge, Secretary of State Vince Cable, is sunning himself in Goa, finding time this week to extol the virtues of traditional Goan sausages (“something of an acquired taste”) for a travel piece in the Daily Telegraph. Dr Cable would do better to promote economic growth rather than luxury holiday destinations. He should set a clear deadline for his officials to complete diligence tests and get this funding released.

There is no room for delay as this investment is meant to provide vital support for parts of the country already grappling with economic stagnation.

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