London draining life out of rest of country - Vince Cable

Vince Cable

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.

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.

'Ferociously'

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."

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