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Sunday, 1 April, 2001, 15:28 GMT 16:28 UK
Webcast: London

ISSUE: ECONOMY AND BUSINESS

To watch coverage of the forum, select the link below:


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BBC News Online's first election forum took place at the London offices of Rathbones, an investment company that manages 5bn worth of funds for individuals, trustees and charities.

The company's managing director, Mark Powell, said the economy had been benign for a few years, with reasonable levels of growth and falling unemployment.

But there were clear signs of an economic slowdown, and he thought it was important that interest rates and fiscal measures should be used to prevent this turning into a global recession.

Richard Baron, deputy head of policy at the Institute of Directors, also expressed concern about the possibility of a slowdown in the economy.

Inflation had been creeping up, and he thought a further cut in interest rates might be required before the end of the year.

Bill Moyes, director general of the British Retail Consortium, said his members had welcomed a recent increase in shop prices and the value of retail sales.

But he felt the economy was looking a little fragile, and there was concern that an economic downturn would lead to a contraction in the domestic market, with margins being squeezed.

Douglas Godden, head of economic policy at the CBI, saw no sudden dangers in the short term, but the slowdown in the world economy was creating uncertainty.

The CBI had been pleased by the flexibility of the Bank of England in bringing down interest rates, and the UK was reasonably placed to weather the world-wide storm. Public finances were fairly sound, but the burden on business could be reduced by looking at specific taxes and regulations.

Roger Lyons, general secretary of the union MSF, said the Labour government had delivered economic stability, and almost every business sector had felt the benefit.

But there was concern about the impact of a US recession on manufacturing in the UK, and the loss of quality jobs. It was important to ensure there was no return to the days of "boom and bust".

Bharti Patel, director of the Low Pay Unit, said the introduction of the national minimum wage in 1999 had brought higher earnings to many people, and fears about the measure leading to job losses had proved unfounded.

The economy was doing well, and it was important to build on what had been achieved to establish a just society.

Navneet Bali, finance director of ebookers.com, the online travel service, said there was concern among the internet companies over the slow introduction of broadband technology, and the cost of internet access.

He felt that once access became cheaper, it would create further investment in this sector of the economy, as online companies became more profitable.

Our final guest, Dr Paul Ekins from Keele University, looked to the future and outlined the challenges facing the next government because of the impact of the environment on economic policy.

Global factors such as climate change were outside the control of any individual economy, and all countries had to co-operate to achieve the kind of future people wanted for themselves and their children.

People had to be persuaded to produce and consume goods in ways that did less damage to the environment.

If you would like to add to the discussion, send us your email comments and questions now.

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