Dancing in the dark: What's St Vince up to?

Two months in, and business secretary Vince Cable continues to unpick Peter Mandelson's policies

Last Updated: 12 Oct 2010

Not only have millions of pounds of grants to business been withdrawn but Mandelson’s belief that universities should be more in tune with the needs of business are roundly dismissed. ‘We’re not in the business of running universities like Ukrainian tractor factories,’ said Cable in an interview in the Times today.

Instead of handouts, Cable wants to encourage businesses to grow by cutting regulation and encouraging banks to lend more. And sky-high executive pay looks threatened. Although he admits he cannot directly intervene on private sector pay, he intends to apply pressure when he can. In the negotiations over a new Royal Mail chief executive, Cable says: 'It was made clear we wanted lower levels of pay.'

He has a relaxed view of trade unions, saying: 'We haven't had any problems with the unions in the private sector. One of the miracles of this crisis is that people have taken pay cuts and part-time working and the unions have often co-operated with management.' However, with hundreds of thousands of civil servants likely to be out of a job within a year or two, more miracles will be required to keep public sector unions and nut jobs like Bob Crow on side.

Just as key to Cable’s portfolio is higher education and science. The veteran hoofer will need some fancy footwork to find a course between the Lib Dems commitment to abolishing university tuition fees and the Tories' inclination to increase them. At present, the position is they have 'agreed to disagree', which is plainly not sustainable. He signalled, not surprisingly, that it's the Lib Dems who are likely to be disappointed. 'We're highly constrained financially and I am not Father Christmas,' he said.

But, without agreement, Cable will struggle to increase access to further education and also to end the 'massive shortage' of science, technology, engineering and maths graduates. He declared the Labour policy that 50% of young people should go to university 'absurd', dismissing its target-based policies. Especially if they all come marching out with 2.2s in Media Studies, eh Vince?

And what of suspicions Cable might be unhappy delivering Conservative cuts or that he was frustrated by not getting a bigger role in regulating banks or would not be happy heading a department he once said should be scrapped? ‘I’m now 67 and I’m looking forward to celebrating my 70th birthday in office,’ was his reply.

In today's bulletin:

Dancing in the dark: What's St Vince up to?
Small business lending crisis not ending yet
Editor's blog: are we in for more fat cat protests?
Reducing fear top of the manager's to-do list
Power cuts and burst pipes cost SMEs nearly £600m a year

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