Vince Cable's speech to conference: Live blog

The Business Secretary addresses Liberal Democrat delegates in Birmingham.

QUICK VERDICT: Cable's delivery today was low-key, but were some unmistakeable jibes at the Tories -- the repeated references to fairness, stimulus, and, of course, the reference to the "ideological descendants of those who sent children up chimneys". There was also a sprinkling of Lib Dem populism with the emphasis on social justice, and fairness -- particularly on limiting executive pay and taxing the rich. Notably, he didn't use the Jaguar and Landrover contracts he opened with to say that the economy was on the home-stretch; nor did he indicate that the next phase of difficulty for ordinary citizens is going to be over any time soon.

12.37: Cable has reiterated his commitment to a mansion tax. "When some critics attack our party policy of a tax on properties over £2 million by saying it is an attack on ordinary middle class owners, you wonder what part of the solar system they live in." Greater tax of land and property was a key theme of his speech last year.

12.36: He keeps returning to the idea of "responsible capitalism".

12.35: "Some of you may have noticed one of the big media companies has had a spot of bother" -- Cable makes a nod to his anti-Murdoch stance without courting controversy too much.

12.32: Living costs are falling, he says, and there is a sense of grievance that workers are paying for a crisis they did not create.

12.31: Cable is talking about investment in infrastructure -- the "stimulus" section of his speech. It's not a word used often by George Osborne, it must be said.

12.29: How do we progress from financial stability to growth, asks Cable. "Panic in the markets will not be stopped by stopping maternity rights," says Cable, assuring delegates he will not provide cover for unscrupulous business-people -- the "ideological descendents of those who sent children up chimneys". This is a jibe at Steve Hilton for some of his more unconventional ideas on workers' rights.

12.26: Cable is criticising the idea that cutting taxes for the wealthy will improve the country's wealth. On the idea that this will encourage tax avoiders back from Monaco, he says: "Pull the other one". Playing to the Lib Dem faithful here.

12.23pm: Vince Cable is calling for "stability, stimulus, and solidarity" to help the economy recover and create a "responsible capitalism". He is criticising Labour's record and saying that financial discipline is not necessarily "right-wing" or "ideological". He says he thinks they are following in the steps of Roy Jenkins. "The progressive agenda of centre left parties cannot be cannot be delivered by bankrupt governments" -- but the really important word here is "stimulus".

12.05pm: Join us at 12.20pm for live updates on Vince Cable's speech. You can read the full transcript of it here.

Samira Shackle is a freelance journalist, who tweets @samirashackle. She was formerly a staff writer for the New Statesman.

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How tribunal fees silenced low-paid workers: “it was more than I earned in a month”

The government was forced to scrap them after losing a Supreme Court case.

How much of a barrier were employment tribunal fees to low-paid workers? Ask Elaine Janes. “Bringing up six children, I didn’t have £20 spare. Every penny was spent on my children – £250 to me would have been a lot of money. My priorities would have been keeping a roof over my head.”

That fee – £250 – is what the government has been charging a woman who wants to challenge their employer, as Janes did, to pay them the same as men of a similar skills category. As for the £950 to pay for the actual hearing? “That’s probably more than I earned a month.”

Janes did go to a tribunal, but only because she was supported by Unison, her trade union. She has won her claim, although the final compensation is still being worked out. But it’s not just about the money. “It’s about justice, really,” she says. “I think everybody should be paid equally. I don’t see why a man who is doing the equivalent job to what I was doing should earn two to three times more than I was.” She believes that by setting a fee of £950, the government “wouldn’t have even begun to understand” how much it disempowered low-paid workers.

She has a point. The Taylor Review on working practices noted the sharp decline in tribunal cases after fees were introduced in 2013, and that the claimant could pay £1,200 upfront in fees, only to have their case dismissed on a technical point of their employment status. “We believe that this is unfair,” the report said. It added: "There can be no doubt that the introduction of fees has resulted in a significant reduction in the number of cases brought."

Now, the government has been forced to concede. On Wednesday, the Supreme Court ruled in favour of Unison’s argument that the government acted unlawfully in introducing the fees. The judges said fees were set so high, they had “a deterrent effect upon discrimination claims” and put off more genuine cases than the flimsy claims the government was trying to deter.

Shortly after the judgement, the Ministry of Justice said it would stop charging employment tribunal fees immediately and refund those who had paid. This bill could amount to £27m, according to Unison estimates. 

As for Janes, she hopes low-paid workers will feel more confident to challenge unfair work practices. “For people in the future it is good news,” she says. “It gives everybody the chance to make that claim.” 

Julia Rampen is the digital news editor of the New Statesman (previously editor of The Staggers, The New Statesman's online rolling politics blog). She has also been deputy editor at Mirror Money Online and has worked as a financial journalist for several trade magazines.