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Thursday, October 28, 1999 Published at 15:59 GMT 16:59 UK

Adair Turner answers your questions

Adair Turner has been the high profile director general of the Confederation of British Industry since 1995.

His career started with BP and Chase Manhattan Bank before he became a director of McKinsey & Co. The 1999 CBI conference, starting on Sunday, is his last as DG before stepping down in December.

Read his responses to questions put to him by BBC News Online users.

Nicholas Pringle, UK: Euro - in or out, when and why?

Adair Turner: Thanks Nicholas for one of the most complex and difficult questions of all. It's impossible to give a full answer except over many pages. But the majority of CBI members are in favour in principle of UK entry, under the right conditions. And the argument for is that exchange rate movements are often irrational and harmful - as we see now for British exporters - and that going in is the only way to reduce that problem. There are arguments both for and against but the balance is in favour.

James Kenyon, UK: What changes can the Government make to increase the levels of long term investment in the UK?

Adair Turner: You've asked a question which has been debated for many years. One key answer is that the more macro economic stability the government can create - low and stable inflation, no booms and busts - the more that business will look to the long term. And there are signs that this is now happening, with business investment as a % of GDP now higher in the UK than in several competitors. We need to make further progress, but we're heading in the right direction.

Philippe Chan, UK: Do you see e-commerce being the main medium to do day-to-day shopping for the majority of the population in 10 years time? And if so, what negative impacts will this have on high street retailers and shopping centres?

Adair Turner: I'm not sure whether it will be, if you mean that the shopping visit largely disappears. After all there are many goods where you want to touch and feel the product before buying and the fact of electronic ordering does not change the fact that goods need to be physically packed up and delivered.

But I think we will see many retail purchases conducted and delivered outside retail shops. We will see powerful tools for customers to search for the best bargains before making the actual shopping visit. Business to business relations may be the area where e-commerce make the greater difference.

Lucy Dorman, UK: What in your opinion are the major challenges affecting managers as we head towards the year 2000?

Adair Turner: For many businesses the key challenges are created by globalisation and rapid technology change. But there are others whom the shift to a leisure and design intensive economy is just as important, with the need to focus on 'soft' factors such as design, fashion and quality of human service. And for all companies a key challenge remains how to motivate employees whose expectations for interesting as well as renumerative jobs are continually growing.

Alex Stanway, UK: Why does the CBI continue to misrepresent the vast majority of British companies on the euro, and EU matters in general? I am thinking specifically of your support for the euro based on a survey of less than 5% of your members, and flying in the face of other organisations such as Business for Sterling and Federation of Small Businesses who are against the euro and even against EU membership in many cases, not because they are xenophobic or backward looking but because they want the right interest rate and good government, neither of which the undemocratic EU is likely to provide.

Is it not true that - like its Nazi predecessor the Federation of British Industry - the CBI is simply towing the line of a corporatist clique and putting the wishes of its own bureaucrats and ogiarchs before its real job or representing and speaking for the needs of British industry.

Adair Turner: The CBI does not misrepresent the views of British companies. The CBI survey to which you refer was idiotically complained against by Business for Sterling to the Market Research Society, which threw out completely all the objections made. Business for Sterling's own survey techniques involved absurd weighting procedures in which six voters, yes six, can count for 52% of all votes cast.

It is usually the sign of someone who's arguments are weak that they resort to odious comparisons with extreme historic events like Nazism. Nazism was a historical evil of unique proportions. You simply degrade the quality of debate on this issue by making this reference.

W. Askew, UK: Metered local calls must be kicked into touch. Do you know if there are any plans to do so? If they are not, the UK is doomed to be a second rate 'ezone' with participants watching the clock as avidly as the screen.

Adair Turner: The rise of high quality low cost connection both for present bit rates and for high speed connections is clearly important. But I am not sure the issue is quite as black and white as you suggest. Even with present pricing structures internet usage is well advanced in the UK. I suspect the issue to do with high speed access may be more important.

Harold Carter, UK: How far do you think the UK has gone through a genuine shift in competitiveness by comparison with continental European countries, or how far has the out-performance of UK industry relative to continental countries in the past 20 years been a result of temporary circumstances? Which European countries do you think will show the strongest growth in GDP over the next 20 years, and why?

Adair Turner: Dear Harold, lovely to hear from you over the wire. Can we talk about it in detail some other time? In brief I think the UK has improved fundamentally over the past 20 years but that's essentially what we did was put a stop to relative decline, but not catch up in prosperity or productivity we still need to do that. I think the UK, Spain, Ireland, Portugal and the Scandinavians are well placed for strong growth for five years. Beyond that my crystal ball goes murky.
Love to Tess and children.

Alex Zevin, US: What measures do you propose to help British industry thrive once again/ How doable do you think these plans are and do you think the government will implement them.

Adair Turner: In fact Alex, British business is making undeniable progress, investment is rising and we foresee robust growth over the next three years. The key remaining problem is that our exporters are struggling with an overvalued pound.

There isn't much we can do about that - no government can control a floating exchange rate. But one way forward could be to join EMU - You probably know however what a contentious issue that is within the UK.

BBC News Online: What are you doing after you step down next month as Director General?

Adair Turner: I am going to write a book, between January and September next year, to be published in 2001.

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