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Wednesday, 1 November, 2000, 19:25 GMT
Brown to fuel CBI debate
CBI Conference 2000 logo

By BBC industry correspondent Stephen Evans

Whatever the people who planned the Confederation of British Industry's annual conference might have intended, the outcome will be very different.

The event has been completely upstaged by the fuel crisis and the response of the Chancellor of the Exchequer to it in his pre-Budget report on 8 November.

Gordon Brown, UK Chancellor of the Exchequer
Gordon Brown: straight talking

Gordon Brown addresses the CBI conference in Birmingham on Monday, 6 November, two days before he addresses the House of Commons with his response - or lack of it - to the fuel protesters' demands.

The CBI has its own demands on fuel, in particular the replacement of the Vehicle Excise Duty paid by hauliers with a special charge (sometimes called a Vignette; sometimes called a "Brit Disc").

This disc would have to be bought by the owners of all lorries on British roads, both foreign trucks and British ones.

This does not lower the overall cost to British firms but it does raise it for foreign firms, who would in effect be charged for using the UK road network.

Tax talk

But beyond that, the CBI has broader demands.

It is concerned about "red tape" and the amount of new legislation heading towards business from Brussels.

Business is clearly not in love with the government but there is no great evidence of loathing either

The CBI director general, Digby Jones, says that his members fear that new workers' rights are being planned in an attempt to woo Labour's core supporters in the run-up to the election.

Unions are seeking additional paid leave for both new mothers and fathers, and also want women to have the legal right to return to work part time after maternity leave.

So there will be much talk of "red tape" in Birmingham.

There will also be much talk of the tax burden.

Modernising tax breaks

And on this, CBI firms are more likely to get some joy out of the government.

Ministers are already sensitive to the charge that the tax burden has risen since they came to office.

Mr Brown himself is very keen on promoting investment, so tax breaks for firms which modernise machinery are on the cards.

There will be a feeling at Birmingham that this will be the last annual conference before the election.

It is impossible to gauge what business makes of Labour.

It is clearly not in love with the government but there is no great evidence of loathing either.

The best guess is that some disenchantment has set in but there are no signs of a mass switch of affections away.

Warm, but not ecstatic

Many business people are naturally Conservatives. Some are not.

Many were persuaded that Labour had learnt to run the economy and have since been impressed by Gordon Brown.

Mr Brown will be the star turn at Birmingham.

He may have rabbits to pull out of the hat but, more likely, he will signal that the rabbits are there to be pulled out in the future. It will be enough to get him a warm but less than ecstatic reception.

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See also:

23 Oct 00 | Business
CBI urges Brown to cut fuel tax
 | Pre budget report
Brown's fuel tax options
14 Sep 00 | Business
Fuel crisis: The cost to business
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