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Tuesday, November 2, 1999 Published at 17:47 GMT


CBI: Business has won its case

The CBI has cultivated political leaders

Director General Adair Turner closed the Confederation of British Industry's annual conference with the message that there was now a consensus about what was needed for economic success.

He was speaking at the end of the two-day conference which was the first in its history to be attended by all three major party leaders in the UK.

The difference to the past was clear, he pointed out.

"Twenty years ago, 15 years ago, 10 years ago, the CBI worked in a quite different political environment.

"One where elections threatened to change the fundamental direction of economic policy - where the 1983 Labour Party manifesto wanted 80% tax rates and mass nationalisation, and where two fundamentally different ideologies contended: socialism versus the market economy."

What kind of capitalism

But, Mr Turner, said: "The debate is no longer capitalism yes or no, but what form of capitalism."

He said that not having such an opponent now did not mean that the CBI had a less important job. It was still active in lobbying to ensure that the detail of government policies did not harm business.

Successes include the setting of the minimum wage at a lower level, ensuring that trade union recognition laws did not undermine flexible labour markets, and changes to reduce bureaucracy of the working time directive.

Arguing for the euro

On Europe, he reiterated his pro-euro position: "The big problem we still face is a high and unpredictable exchange rate, hitting hard the traded sector of our economy, particularly manufacturing.

"One way to remove exchange rate volatility, at least in respect to European trade and investment would be to enter EMU ... stay out and we control our own interest rate but the exchange rate will sometimes move in ways we don't understand and can't control.

"The euro issue is a difficult one, but not one the CBI can avoid. It's an issue where business opinions differ."

He concluded his final conference in his five year spell at the helm of the CBI with the message that the CBI should not be party political.

"It should not be a fact free whinger. It does not believe that business can ignore the wider social and environmental context. It develops its policies through fact based analysis and it argues its case with rationality and with respect for others' points of view, but also with robustness."

Although Mr Turner will leave the CBI after this conference, his successor will not be named for several weeks.

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