Jobs and Business

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 9:34 am on 10th May 2013.

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Photo of Vincent Cable Vincent Cable The Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills 9:34 am, 10th May 2013

The hon. Gentleman is right that myth-busting is an important part of what we need to do. However, in order to deal with myth-busting, we must also deal with genuine abuses. I hope he understands that. I am grateful for his first comment—I am trying to lower the temperature of the debate and to get us to deal with fact rather than myth. I am trying to have a proper balance that recognises the very substantial economic importance of managed migration to this country alongside the measures we must take to deal with abuse.

A large part of the Leader of the Opposition’s speech was devoted to the continuing problems in banking and the financial sector, and many of the current problems with the economy relate to the aftermath of the banking crisis. We have got to a situation in which banks—partly under pressure from regulators, and partly as a result of learning from their mistakes—have moved to a position of fairly extreme risk aversion. If we are to ensure that credit flows to small business, which is the motor of the economy, that needs to change.

There is some evidence that the situation is beginning to change. Some banks, such as Lloyds, HSBC and the trade finance market, are showing positive trends, as is Barclays. The head of Royal Bank of Scotland made it clear at the weekend that he has £20 billion-worth above his liquidity buffers and capital requirements available for small and medium-sized enterprise loans. We hope SMEs take advantage of that.

However, the position we are dealing with is genuinely difficult. In the light of banks’ previous misfortunes, they are operating what I call a pawnbroker model of banking, under which people need collateral, whether a gold watch or property, to secure a business loan. That is massively inhibiting for, for example, a creative industry that does not have such collateral, or an export company that is trying to trade on the basis of orders, or simply for a good company with a good business idea and a good business plan that is unable to get into expansionary mode because of the crippling effects of bank credit restriction.

The Government are trying to deal with the problem in a series of practical steps. We clearly need to do more, but it is worth summarising some of the steps we are taking. We have a sophisticated system of developing supply chain finance—the advanced manufacturing supply chain initiative. Work is being done with Kingfisher and others in the private sector to support trade finance outside the banking system. We have a £1 billion fund that now supports non-bank finance, which is proliferating rapidly. We have crowd-sourced funding, invoice finance and non-conventional forms of lending. The Financial Services Authority and, currently, the Financial Conduct Authority, relaxed rules on the establishment of new banks. Within the next year or so, we will hopefully have a lot more banks, based on the model of Aldermore and Handelsbanken.

Probably the most important step, and one that underpins the others, is the work we are doing with the business bank. We have £1 billion of start-up capital. The first £300 million is being marketed to support new banks and long-term patient capital, which can be raised in the City, and to support equity through angel networks. A crucial test of our policy in the coming months will be the speed with which we can get that capital into the market to relieve the genuine constraints.

I listened carefully to try to establish what, if anything, Opposition Members wanted to add to the debate, because the problem is a genuinely difficult one, and because Labour presided over the banking collapse. If I understand them correctly, the big new idea is regional banking. It is a good idea, and I want it to be explained and developed. It has been forgotten that, 15 years ago, we had regional banking—they were called building societies. I have a vivid recollection of that period because I was chairman of Save Our Building Societies, working with one or two Opposition colleagues, particularly Mr Love, to try to stop the demutualisation of building societies.

I believe demutualisation began originally with the noble Lord Lawson, but it is worth recalling that, in the first five years of the Blair Government, we lost most of our regional banks. It is worth itemising what happened to them: Bradford and Bingley collapsed and was nationalised, and is now part of Santander; Birmingham Midshires bank is now part of Lloyds; Northern Rock in Newcastle collapsed and is now part of the Virgin group; Woolwich is now part of Barclays; Halifax is now part of Lloyds; and Alliance and Leicester is now part of Santander. We had regional banking, and it went. I would love to see it recreated, but that is like turning omelettes back into eggs. I am all ears as to how that can be done. If it can be done, I am very much in favour of it, because we need much more diversity and competition in banking.