Bosses divided on single currency

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The Independent Online
BATTLE LINES have been drawn between business leaders over whether Britain should join a single European currency. And the split is every bit as real as the division tormenting the Conservative Party.

The dispute pitches Euro-sceptics such as the industrialist Lord Hanson, Stanley Kalms of Dixons Group and Garry Weston of Associated British Foods against Europhiles including Sir Patrick Sheehy of BAT, Sir Iain Vallance of BT and Chris Haskins of Northern Foods.

While the Confederation of British Industry is cautiously in favour of Britain joining a common currency, the Institute of Directors is hostile.

Tim Melville-Ross, director-general of the IoD, said: "For the foreseeable future the single currency would not be good for Britain. I think it's impractical to consider it for even a generation into the 21st century."

Mr Melville-Ross, Lord Hanson and Sir Owen Green, the former chairman of BTR, were among 17 signatories of a letter in the Times last week attacking the claim that European monetary union had wide support from the business and financial sectors. "Might political supporters of a single currency henceforth cease taking the name of business and the City in vain and start confronting the real issues?" they wrote.

The letter has drawn condemnation from other business leaders. Chris Haskins, chairman of Northern Foods, said: "Hanson thinks Europe is a bad thing. Just look at his investments in Europe - he's got nothing. I don't see how we can satisfactorily operate outside a single currency. We'll not be in the heartland of Europe, we'll be on the margin."

His sentiments are echoed by Clive Thompson, chief executive of Rentokil, who is due to argue the case against Mr Melville-Ross on the BBC's Money Programme today.

The CBI also claims the support of Sir Patrick Sheehy, Sir Iain Vallance, Niall Fitzgerald of Unilever and Ross Buckland of Unigate. It cites a survey of 212 senior business people, of whom 24 per cent said Britain should be part of the leading group of countries moving to a common currency by 1999, and another 49 per cent said Britain should keep the option open. Only 4 per cent said Britain should reject monetary union.

But the IoD also has some heavyweight supporters. Its council, which formulates policy, includes Sir Colin Marshall, chairman of British Airways, Lord Young, chairman of Cable & Wireless and a former cabinet minister, and Sir John Egan, chief executive of BAA.

Martin Taylor, chief executive of Barclays Bank, takes a middling view. A single currency was obviously desirable in principle, he said. "But it would be a bad thing if it were done in the wrong way or at the wrong time. I'm not a monetary unionist at any cost. I am worried that in 1999 Britain will have nothing to do with it (a common currency), and then come knocking on the door five years later.''

Mr Taylor last month joined the board of the Association for the Monetary Union of Europe, alongside Sir Patrick. He described the position as "an interesting listening post''.

Ross Buckland, chairman of Unigate, strongly supported a move to a common currency: "I'm not British. I'm Australian. But I'm also a European. I start from the premise that the future of the UK is as an integral part of Europe." He said a single currency would eliminate adverse currency movements which made planned new factories uneconmic. "You can't hedge against long-term movements in exchange rates.''

Daniel Hodson, chief executive of the London International Finance Futures Exchange, was another signatory to the letter. He said: "It was intended to stimulate debate and make sure it's not totally one-sided."

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