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Lord Davies: “we need better role models than Cheryl Cole”

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Trade minister Lord Davies may want Britain’s youngsters to be more "enterprising" but he doesn’t recommend Cheryl Cole, the north-eastern lass who’s single-mindedly hauled herself from humble beginnings to global superstardom, as a role model. 

"We need better role models for young people," Davies insisted in an interview with Real Business. "It’s not just about Cheryl Cole and Jordan. We need to encourage enterprise".

One way to achieve this will be to get more women participating in enterprise, he believes. Using an oft-quoted statistic, he points out that "if we had the same number of women in business as the US, we’d have 700,000 more businesses; and we’d have another 150,000 start-ups every year.

It’s a "disgrace" that 25 per cent of the FTSE do not have women on their boards, he continues. "I am fanatical that we need more women in business. We need more women on public boards."

As for that well-known advocate of women in business, Davies stuck up for enterprise champion Lord Sugar of Clapton who has torn strips off small-business audiences across the UK for expecting better support from their banks.

"In any recession, businesses will fail," says Davies. "Let me defend Alan Sugar here. He’s seen thousands of small businesses. The banks have got a business to run, just like a small business."

Throughout our 30-minute interview and in a speech to the Hong Kong Trade Development Council today (11.2.10), Davies appears hell-bent on talking up Britain, turning sentiment in what, he admits, is still a "fragile stage of economic recovery".

So where are the promising signs? In which sectors can Britain see a rosier industrial future?

Britain’s future will be as a digital economy, Davies believes. To achieve this, "we need every household to have broadband because 60 per cent of new businesses are created from the home." In the creative and fashion industries, he sees Britain as a world leader, although he acknowledes that these are not large-scale job-generators.

Here, Britain’s legacy in innovation and science will come to the fore, driving our automotive and maritime industries, healthcare, advanced engineering, logistics, ports etc. With our flexible workforce and as a gateway to Europe, the UK is a world leader in foreign direct investment, attracting industrial giants and their large-scale supply chains.

This was a defiant, upbeat performance. The relatively low rate of insolvencies during the recession shows that Britain is a "robust economy", he insists. Inevitably, Davies takes swipes at the media. "I really get very cross, upset, irritated at people who talk down this country," he says.

With Britain’s puny 0.1 per cent GDP growth and a fiscal nightmare hanging over generations, the doom-mongers do have plenty to talk down about. But Lord Davies of Abersoch, for one, is unlikely to be listening.

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