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Sunday, 5 November, 2000, 12:47 GMT
CBI Director General, Digby Jones
DAVID FROST: The annual CBI conference gets underway later today in Birmingham, as with the two main political parties, the issue of joining the Euro will be a dominant theme, or not joining the Euro, like each party the CBI contains both Euro enthusiasts and opponents, last week one of the few companies still making cars in Britain announced it was holding further investment until Britain joined the Euro. But some key retailers are convinced Britain's thriving outside the Euro-zone and would only be damaged by abandoning the pound. Well the Director General of the CBI is with me right now, Digby Jones. Digby good morning.

DIGBY JONES: Good morning to you David.

DAVID FROST: Where do you stand on this issue of the Euro?

DIGBY JONES: Well the CBI, a majority by no means an absolute majority, there's a significant minority who wouldn't have this view, but 18 months ago we felt that it was right to go in when the economic conditions were right and they're clearly not right at the moment, there's not convergence on interest rates and the, the pound is far too strong against a very weak Euro. But there is a far more important issue right now and that is Europe and whether we can get the structural reform in Europe, the deregulation of the markets, better labour market flexibility in Europe, an outward looking Europe, a globally competitive Europe, get the telecoms right and get the investment in entrepreneurial spirit. Now that is a far more important issue for the next 12 months than do we or do we not go into Euro when we've got politicians saying that's for something after the election. And I'd rather at the conference in Birmingham the next couple of days get a debate going on the single market. Is it, have we got a level playing field, are all the countries behaving themselves, can Britain exploit its home market which is Europe.

DAVID FROST: And what about the businessmen themselves, I mean people complain that those, that while the sceptics have been vocal that the pro, pro-Europe, pro-Euro members of business have been pathetic?

DIGBY JONES: I think that pathetic is such a strong word and unnecessary. I think what it's about is that it's a very political issue and most countries in Europe are divided on it, Britain is no different and because we have a, a government which for political reasons and they are democratically elected people, businessmen are not, have decided to put it down until after the next election so a lot of pro-Euro businessmen have been saying let's fight on the issues where we can make a difference, transport, regulation, taxation, education, skills training, and make a difference with a government that's facing an election not talk about an issue which actually is for another day although it is very important.

DAVID FROST: Very important and some say another day, that far ahead and some say that far ahead and so on. What are you hoping for from Gordon Brown this week, what is your dream for what Gordon Brown will stand there and say and stand and deliver?

DIGBY JONES: Well British business is given five billion pounds more in tax in each of the last three years of this government, more than it ever did in the past and there is money in the tank and we think that £3 billion, no more because we don't want to be ringing inflation bells in Threadneedle Street, but £3 billion could be actually given back in tax cuts, targeted tax cuts to business that are targeted to productivity. Areas where small, medium-sized enterprises, when the Chancellor gave extra¿capital allowances in, in March, great, now let's build on that, let's get them to invest more in IT, get business to business e-commerce into the manufacturing process.

DAVID FROST: But if you were the Chancellor would you give that £3 billion in cuts or would you give it to the pensioners, knowing the political pressures on Gordon Brown?

DIGBY JONES: Well he's a politician, he makes our decisions, that's his job, my job, I'm not paid by the Labour government or the Tories or the Liberals, I'm paid by business to constantly fight for a better wealth-creation atmosphere in which business can flourish because then we get more jobs, then more people pay tax, then we get schools and hospitals and in that respect I'd like him to be generating wealth in the country and getting those targeted tax cuts to make sure actually that we can get on with the business of making a better life for everybody.

DAVID FROST: So bearing in mind those figures like £5 billion and so on, if you had to some up Digby, would you say that this government has been good for business or bad for business?

DIGBY JONES: On, on balance it's been a listening government for business, I think it's a macroeconomic stability, no boom and bust and we're getting level playing fields where an investor can look at a good forward looking stable platform has been good. What it doesn't do all the time, it doesn't quite listen as well as everybody thinks it does, consultation when it happens delivers a good result, once or twice in the past mixer taxes in the budget haven't been a good example of consultations. I think that they could do a lot more to listen to business but they are in tune with it and they delivered a, a platform of economic stability from which business and especially any overseas investor can look at it and think UK Plc is still a good place to invest but it's a reputation that's got to be jealously guarded and on the forefront of Gordon Brown's mind must be, and every civil servant who works for him, business is globally mobile don't ever, ever forget the fact they can strike camp quite quickly.

DAVID FROST: Fewer, fewer and fewer frontiers, exactly. Thank you very much indeed, good to have you with us.

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