BRITAIN is far too London-centric, but the “pendulum is swinging back” with the devolution of power to the regions, Business Secretary Vince Cable said at the Yorkshire Post Excellence in Business Awards.
The Liberal Democrat Minister said policies such as the Regional Growth Fund and City Deals are beginning to help areas like the Leeds city region win greater decision-making abilities.
“This is the most centrally driven country in the Western world,” Dr Cable added. “Powers have been gradually leeched away from local government.
“Local decision-making has been atrophied and there isn’t a great deal left. We have to reverse that.”
The York-born MP, who was keynote speaker at the seventh annual awards, paid tribute to the “enormous entrepreneurial potential and energy” of Yorkshire’s business community and said “it is incredibly energising to see the successes we have in this country”.
“It’s entirely right that we should be meeting like this to celebrate them,” Dr Cable added.
He told the audience how the Yorkshire economy has repeatedly reinvented itself over the last half century.
Dr Cable said: “The city I grew up in, the main employers were two chocolate factories and the railways.
“One of the chocolate factories went to Poland and the other was acquired by a Swiss company, which is actually doing very well but on a small scale, and the railways went to Derby.
“The economy is now essentially tourism, financial services and the university. It’s a totally different place.
“When I used to come across 20 miles to the west to Elland Road, this was still an economy that was very heavily based around the textiles industry and all its associated trades. If you went south, there were the coal mines and beyond that there was the steel industry.
“When we now look at what the regional economy is, and what your firms do, it’s a very different world. It’s a different planet.”
The Business Secretary said Yorkshire was home to centres of excellence in advanced manufacturing, such as the cluster of companies in and around Huddersfield specialising in turbo chargers.
He added: “Even the textile industry, we all thought it had disappeared and it virtually did... but amazingly a lot of it is coming back. So far on a small scale, but with innovative products, new markets like the car industry and aerospace, and completely new technologies that they are inventing in Yorkshire like 3D weaving.”
Dr Cable also singled out the renewable sector, financial and professional services and biological industries as sources of economic strength in Yorkshire.
He said: “We are dealing with a different economic structure and within it many firms that are highly successful.
“This city region that you have is actually a major economic powerhouse. We are talking about one million workers and just over 100,000 companies based in this area.
“On some measures, this area is the biggest financial services centre outside of London and on some measures probably the biggest manufacturing centre in the country now and a centre of great dynamism.”
He said Britain was living with the consequences of an “economic heart attack” such as a banking system that remains closed to many businesses.
However, Dr Cable added: “There are some really good things happening. You can see positive signals. Employment is rising consistently. Unemployment is falling consistently. Inflation is falling.
“Those are encouraging signs, as are the large number of business start-ups and the great burst of entrepreneurial energy that we are seeing in this country and which is represented in this hall today.”
Yorkshire Post Editor Peter Charlton opened the awards ceremony at the Queens Hotel on Thursday evening. He urged the audience of industrialists to help send out the message that “Yorkshire is the home of world-class business”.
The comedian Alistair McGowan was master of ceremonies and entertained guests with his impressions of leading figures from the world of sport.