Meeting Vince Cable for a cup of tea

This week I met business secretary Vince Cable to discuss exporting, trade missions and the new business bank.

This week I met business secretary Vince Cable to discuss exporting, trade missions and the new business bank.

In an effort to be more open and accommodating to business journalists outside of the BBC and national broadsheets, I was invited to visit the business secretary.

Alongside three other writers from the business-to-business press world, we convened in Cable’s office to discuss the issues we feel our readers are most concerned about.

It was a relaxed and convivial setting with no dictaphones, video cameras or aggressive questions – just a chance to spitball on some prevalent issues.

First on the agenda was the government’s new business bank, and what it would actually be doing to service the funding worries of British SMEs.

Cable was quick to admit that the UK possesses an unsatisfactory market for business finance, one which he is trying to change.

He said that the main aim of the business bank was to get all of the existing government finance schemes under one roof and heading.

Using £1 billion of new money, alongside £2 billion of existing cash, the business bank will be creating new funding flows such as the co-financing it is engaged with in partnership with peer-to-peer lenders such as Funding Circle and Zopa.

Cable is also keen to engage with some of the new banks on the scene to provide guarantees. High street arrivals such as Metro Bank and Handelsbanken are doing good things, Cable told us, such as the power Handelsbanken branch managers are given to distribute their cash pile to whichever SMEs they think are most deserving – without having to go through time-consuming and arduous back channels of credit approval.

He also pointed towards Lloyds and Santander as lending institutions that are making the right moves.

Against the backdrop the business secretary’s buzzing office on the eighth floor of the Department for Business, Innovation & Skills, we moved on to how British companies can develop new opportunities through exporting. Cable added that he hoped, and felt, that the UKTI was seen as a much friendlier and approachable organisation

In a move which he admitted was ‘shamelessly’ copying the Germans, 40 new overseas Chambers of Commerce will be set up to provide more on-the-ground assistance to first-time exporters. The Chambers, which are part a result of Lord Heseltine’s ‘No stone unturned: in pursuit of growth’ report, are pencilled in to be operational by the end of 2014.

On the subject of overseas trade missions, of which GrowthBusiness recently had an account from Pune, India, Cable explained that he would like to see more ministers get involved in trade promotion. The business secretary will be visiting Russia and India before the year is out, and will be taking a select bunch of SMEs with him on each occasion to hopefully open some doors. The UKTI has 14 priority markets, with the US being one which Cable and the government is keen to crack due to many businesses finding it difficult to break into.

One interesting aside during the meeting occurred when one of my fellow journalists revealed that he had recently set up a business alongside his fulltime job, and had received a less than inviting letter from HMRC. Rather than the congratulations and vouchers he received from his domain name host, the tax powers that be simply told him they were aware of the new venture and were, in effect, watching him.

So, if in the near future you receive a more sprightly first letter from HMRC, it may well have been a result of our little meeting.

With Cable’s team hovering nervously outside his office door, obviously eager to bring him up to speed on an urgent issue, our time with him was over.

Hopefully our sit down will be the beginning of a much more engaged relationship with BIS and the ministers responsible for SME promotion. Watch this space.

In the meantime, in case you were wondering, Cable likes his tea with milk and no sugar.

Hunter Ruthven

Hunter Ruthven

Hunter was the Editor for from 2012 to 2014, before moving on to Caspian Media Ltd to be Editor of Real Business.

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