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 A/V REPORTS
Conservative leader William Hague
launches the Tory business manifesto
 real 56k

The BBC's Gutto Harri
"Companies [the Tories say] have had a tough time under Labour"
 real 56k

The BBC's Andrew North
speaks to businessmen in Reading
 real 28k

Monday, 21 May, 2001, 13:28 GMT
Tories seek business vote
Tory leader William Hague
Mr Hague said Labour policies were damaging business
The Conservatives say they will cut five "damaging" taxes in a move to boost British business.

The Tories have accused Labour of "swimming against the global tide by continuing to raise taxes" and say government policies are damaging Britain's competitive edge.


We must stop raising taxes and start to bring them down

William Hague

Under the party's plans, the Tories would reduce fuel duty, scrap the climate change levy, the aggregates tax, and IR35 - which affects many self-employed people.

They would also cut business tax for small firms.

Losing reputation

Party leader William Hague said the tax cuts were needed to boost British competitiveness.

"We must stop raising taxes and start to bring them down," he said.

"This country is losing its reputation day by day as countries we once surged ahead of are catching up."

He added: "Reputations are hard to create and easy to lose.

"Britain's reputation for low taxes, for a flexible labour market and for a pro-enterprise environment was not acquired by accident but as a result of innovative policies, tenaciously applied over 18 years," he said.

The Tories say that figures from the World Economic Forum show Britain has fallen from 4th to 9th in rankings of most competitive countries.

Shadow chancellor Michael Portillo hit out at Labour policies.

"Britain has lost two-thirds of the competitive advantage it used to enjoy against its European counterparts."

Addressing business leaders later on Monday, he added: "What this government has failed to realise is today's tax increases on business are tomorrow's job losses."

'False friend'

Mr Hague accused Labour of "outrageous deception" by claiming to be the party of business.

"Business has been badly let down by Labour," he said.

"Never has business had such a false friend."

The Tory leader also called on Labour to come clean on its tax plans.

"Two weeks into this election campaign, Labour has still failed to give an answer on which taxes it would increase to pay for its spending plans," he said.

Shadow chancellor Michael Portillo
Mr Portillo said Labour was putting jobs at risk
Mr Hague called on the chancellor to reveal his plans on fuel duty and national insurance contributions.

The Tories have suggested Labour is planning to raise the national insurance ceiling, which it says could cost many middle income earners as much as 800 per year.

Mr Hague also continued to deny that the Tories were planning tax cuts of 20bn.

He said the party had no firm commitments beyond the 8bn cuts already promised.

But Social Security Secretary Alistair Darling said: "Even the Tories know that business will not support cuts of 20 billion, which would have a devastating effect on public services, many of which businesses depend on."

Business boost

The Tories have been boosted by a letter to the Daily Telegraph newspaper signed by more than 140 business leaders, which attacks Labour's record on taxation and regulation.

Figures including Rentokil chief executive Sir Clive Thompson and Lord Hanson write: "At a time when many of our EU competitors and the United States are cutting taxes, Britain is being taken in the wrong direction, with both taxes and the burden of regulation increasing."

It follows a business letter of support for Labour, published in the Times a week ago, in which more than 50 company executives praised the government's stewardship of the economy.

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