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Monday, 28 May, 2001, 14:36 GMT 15:36 UK
Bosses break euro silence
Sir Michael Bishop
Sir Michael Bishop: former Conservative supporter, now in the pro-euro camp
Seven of the UK's most senior corporate chiefs have broken an unspoken pact of silence over the euro, and warned that continued rejection of the currency risks damaging business interests.

Executives including former Conservative trade minister Anthony Nelson have urged party leaders, after the election, to "educate vigorously public opinion" ahead of a referendum on adopting the European single currency.

Chris Gent, chief executive, Vodafone
Chris Gent: 'concerns over anti-euro stance'
By standing outside the eurozone, Britain risks undermining the 1980s reforms, such as reductions in taxes and union powers, which laid the foundation for long-standing prosperity among UK firms, the executives said.

"We can compete with the rest in Europe, but unless we do so on equal terms of currency risk and transaction costs, we will be left at a competitive disadvantage," the leaders said in a letter to The Times.

Opinion divided

The call follows a period of silence among industry's major associations over the euro debate, for fear of highlighting an issue over which the business community is split.

Under director general Digby Jones, the Confederation of British Industry has distanced itself from pro-European leanings displayed by the previous leadership.

British Chambers of Commerce have said their neutral policy over Britain adopting the euro reflects the divided views of their members.

The groups' stance has prompted Foreign Secretary Robin Cook to step up pressure on pro-European business leaders to declare their allegiance, the Financial Times said on Monday.

The Conservatives, meanwhile, on Monday reinforced their anti-euro credentials by accusing Labour of planning to rig a referendum pledged over adopting the European single currency.

Policy concerns

The Conservatives' stance adopting the euro, at least during the next parliament, is believed to have dissuaded some high-profile business supporters from publicly supporting the party.

Chris Gent, chief executive of Vodafone, and one of the industry leaders who signed Monday's letter, is reported to have refused to sign a pro-Conservative letter last week backed by 145 executives.

Airline chief Sir Michael Bishop, who also signed the letter to The Times, is a former backer of the party.

Other signatories included Nicholas Brookes, chief executive of technology firm Spirent, and Martin Broughton, chairman of British American Tobacco.

The businessmen stressed, however, that they were acting as individuals, and not as company representatives.

Business 'ignored'

The letter also follows a survey by Reed Accountancy Personnel which found that 61% of finance directors believe the major political parties are ignoring the needs of business in their general election campaigns.

Less than one-in-five executives interviewed believed businesses' needs were being adequately considered, with many chiefs feeling corporate concerns had been far overtaken in by healthcare and education in politicians' priority lists.

"The UK economy's relative stability has meant it is unlikely that commercial concerns will replace social and domestic issues on the campaign trail," said Reed Accountancy Personnel director Richard Post.

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