Follett admits business confidence `low'

BUSINESS confidence across the East of England is at an all-time low, the minister charged with speaking for the region told a meeting today attended by Prime Minister Gordon Brown.

Graham Dines

BUSINESS confidence across the East of England is at an all-time low, the minister charged with speaking for the region told a meeting today attended by Prime Minister Gordon Brown.

Barbara Follett said that there had been a sharp rise in expected and reported redundancies and this contributed to mood among businesses.

“The number of vacancies has risen from 29,000 to 30,700 and many of these are high end jobs. But we have not yet got right the mix of skills in our region,” Mrs Follett said after the meeting.

Attending the summit were the Chancellor Alastair Darling, Business Secretary Lord Mandelson, the Treasury First Secretary Yvette Cooper, and representatives of the country's regional development agencies.

Mrs Follett said that there would be a “big push” in training programmes in the next couple of months - “training for work, not training for a way of life.”

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She expressed optimism that the East region was among the three strongest regions in the country to cope with the recession but “we have to have confidence in ourselves.”

Mr Brown told the meeting that plans for massive investment in infrastructure and new jobs mean Britain will come through the recession stronger. “The countries, I believe, that continue to invest for the future through the downturn will be the countries that emerge strongest in the future.”

Mr Brown listed the �12.5 billion VAT reduction as one of the key planks of his strategy. And he reiterated his criticism of the Conservatives as the "do nothing'' party who would leave people to suffer.

“The main lesson I have learnt from previous global recessions is that not only must governments act early to prevent lasting damage to economies, but that an economic slowdown must not be an excuse to slow down the pace of investment and reform to strengthen our country for the future.”

Tory leader David Cameron called today for the abolition of income tax on savings by basic-rate taxpayers and called for pensioners' tax allowances to be raised by �2,000.

Mr Cameron said the Government could introduce the changes in its spring Budget, covering the estimated �5 billion cost by cutting back on state spending in 2009/10.

He said that a Conservative government would do everything possible to ensure that the majority of the population has access to high-speed broadband links within five years, with universal access in a decade.

In a speech on the economy in London, Mr Cameron denounced the Government's response to the downturn as “economically stupid and morally indefensible”' because it encouraged debt and undermined saving.

“It is economically stupid because it keeps the debt crisis going, so everyone from individual families to the Government to the whole economy continues to be dependent on foreign-financed debt,” said Mr Cameron. “And it is morally indefensible because it punishes future generations - and responsible savers in this generation - for the irresponsibility of others.”