London draining life out of rest of country - Vince Cable

Vince Cable

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London "is becoming a giant suction machine draining the life out of the rest of the country", Business Secretary Vince Cable has warned.

Mr Cable made the comment while saying that he believed regional airports should be expanded rather than London's Heathrow Airport.

The Lib Dem minister told BBC Radio 4's Today some "more balance" was needed.

But Mayor of London Boris Johnson said Mr Cable's assertion was "stupefying and ridiculous".

And Labour criticised the coalition for "dismantling" regional developments agencies, arguing that its alternative approach to addressing economic imbalances in the UK had been "feeble".

Mr Cable, whose constituency includes Heathrow flight paths, has long opposed plans for a new runway there.

Start Quote

It's no good him talking about regional imbalances when his government dismantled the institutions that were addressing that”

End Quote Chuka Umunna Shadow business secretary

He was speaking after Sir Howard Davies' Airport Commission shortlisted three options for expanding UK airport capacity, two of which involved Heathrow.

With much of the business world in favour of more airport capacity in south-east England, Mr Cable was asked whether he stuck by his opposition to expansion at his local airport.


He said: "What this report is doing [is] trying to reconcile two different things.

"One is to try to ensure that, for the economic interests of the country, we have more connection to the big emerging markets.

"On the other hand we have hundreds of thousands of people in London living under the flight path with very serious issues of noise.

"All the parties have made it very clear that we can't make that problem worse."

The "way forward", he argued, was to make "more use of provincial airports".

Mr Cable described Sir Howard's report as "very well argued".

But he added: "One of the big problems that we have at the moment, which I don't think the report sufficiently addresses, is that London is becoming a kind of giant suction machine, draining the life out of the rest of the country.

"More balance in that respect would be helpful."

Key figures for London and UK compared

Shadow business secretary and Labour MP for Streatham in London, Chuka Umunna, said: "It's no good him talking about regional imbalances when his government dismantled the institutions that were addressing that - Regional Development Agencies - then put feeble substitutes in their place in the form of Local Enterprise Partnerships which they gave no powers to nor appropriate budgets."

The London mayor, who also opposes Heathrow expansion, described Mr Cable as "the cabinet minister in charge of supposedly growing the UK economy".

He argued: "He's talking rubbish. I'm amazed and I fundamentally disagree. In fact the opposite is true: London now contributes more to UK GDP than ever before.

"This city is the motor of the UK economy, and the gateway to recovery across the country, attracting record levels of overseas investment, all of which is helping not hindering recovery.

"Far from being a drain on the the rest of the UK London is helping to drive job creation and growth outside the capital as well as in it."

The BBC's former economics editor, Stephanie Flanders, explored the issue of London v provincial cities in this film for BBC One's The Editors

During the Today programme interview Mr Cable made clear that he would argue "ferociously" in government against Heathrow expansion but said it was not a matter over which he would be prepared to resign.

The final Airports Commission report is due by summer 2015, after the next general election.

The rise and fall of unemployment around the UK since 2005
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Claimant count - June 2012


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  • rate this

    Comment number 1313.

    Back in the 70s the same was said of Birmingham. It was, apparently, sucking the life out of the rest of the Midlands and the North. Cue a raft of policies aimed to curb that growth and shift it elsewhere. Well the first bit worked, but the second bit didn't.

    So before we hobble London we'd want to be sure its success is transferable. I don't think it's that simple.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1305.

    That the truly beautiful parts of the country aren't easily accessible to tourists is part of their charm. Any sensible person would rather take in the Lake District or Brecon Beacons.

    That said, the whole country would surely be better off if there were a network of major cities rather than the eggs in one basket model we seem to be stuck with at present.

  • rate this

    Comment number 890.

    London is a great city but I do think Vince Cable has a point. He was talking in the context of the proposed expansion of Heathrow, surely it does make sense to spread air travel across the UK? Also, such an expansion would make London less desirable and even more congested than it already is.

  • rate this

    Comment number 877.

    Reality is people like living and working in London and it is simple the main hub into England (not uk....). like it or not these are facts.

    But there is oportunity to have business elsewhere its just that the bussinesses that make the most money employ the richest workers and they dont want to live up north or anywhere else. I wouldnt given the choice!

  • rate this

    Comment number 847.

    London and the South East are grossly overstretched in so many ways. The rest of the country has spare 'capacity'.

    In the 1960's there was proper regional policy, which encouraged much activity that didn't need to be in London out to the regions. Such policy should be a standard component of every government's portfolio.


Comments 5 of 14


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