Cash flows over croissants was the order of the day at a business breakfast meeting in Blackheath. SARAH TROTTER went along to hear Lewisham businesses grill politician Vince Cable.
VINCE Cable told Lewisham business leaders their industry was the key to reviving an economy which had suffered a "heart attack".
The Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills said businesses were getting more confident and the way forward was to encourage entrepreneurs and increase skilled labour.
He also listened to Lewisham’s own business concerns over a breakfast at Blackheath’s Clarendon Hotel, Montpelier Road, on January 17, organised by Lewisham Lib Dems.
Mr Cable said: "The economy had the equivalent of a heart attack. There was a shock, enormous damage was done and we are still living with the legacies.
"We are now getting past the emergency stage and are beginning to see some kind of recovery.
"The sense I get is businesses are more confident. But I think it is important we don’t get too carried away."
He warned against repeating the "mistakes of the past" by allowing a boom bust cycle of house prices and said: "If the recovery is to have life, it’s got to be business-based."
He went on to mention his start-up loan scheme and boosting apprenticeships to tackle a shortage of skilled labour.
1. Speaking of start-ups, Steven Nelson, from Lewisham Chamber of Commerce, said: "What we need is a bank of people to go and spend a day or two with a company, take them through the expert processes and introduce them to the export world."
A. VC: "We have replaced Business Link with online advice. Mentorsme.co.uk is an online access to volunteer mentors.
"We don’t have money to splash around, but have set up some targeted schemes. The start-up loans scheme is proving extremely popular and helps fledging companies."
2. Jeanette Purcell, business specialist in leadership development, asked: Q. "What I see every day is a real lack of management and leadership skills. I wondered what could be done about this?"
A. VC: "What we do is to try to help with advice with businesses which will really grow and provide employment. We have identified companies with real potential."
3. Humphrey Dawson, a Blackheath aviation lawyer, said: "I was at a meeting with lawyers, the general view of them all was that you are a miserable-so-and-so.
"Do you not think that as business minister you should use it to trumpet success?"
A. VC: "I think people value honesty. I could see they were incubating a disaster. I got so used to people who were taking complete bullshit and building false hope.
"I am actually quite a cheerful, happy person, but you have to be careful."
News Shopper raised concerns about protecting Lewisham's pubs - after 53 closed in the past decade - betting shops on the high street, and strategies for Lewisham Council to boost business in a time of cuts.
VC said: "We have just finished a public consultation with the idea of trying to help pubs cope with pressure which will be published in a few weeks. Many individual pubs are tied to a big company like Enterprise etc and a lot feel they have been squeezed very hard.
"My own instinct is I do worry about gambling on the high street. We can’t make that illegal, but I know a lot of people do worry about it and I do have sympathy.
"There is an issue in cuts in local government. Councils can give encouragement to local business, parking policies that are sympathetic, encouraging their own procurement, use local companies where possible."
Other points raised included worries about a lack of river crossings and tight planning restrictions for developers.
He also trumpeted the "brilliant" vision of proposed Lewisham free school Diaspora High School - aimed at tackling boys falling into gang culture by using apprenticeships and mentors – which has been rejected three times by the Department for Education.
He said: "I am sorry to hear you lost your free school application. What you are doing is immensely valuable.
"It’s a brilliant initiative. I may be able to follow it up."