CBI chief commends Labour

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The Independent Online
RUSSELL HOTTEN

The new head of the Confederation of British Industry yesterday welcomed policy changes in the Labour Party, but said he retains doubts about its commitment to see them through.

Adair Turner, on his first day as CBI director-general, said he would be pragmatic in his approach to the party should it be form the government.

As Labour yesterday embarked on a month-long campaign to woo business, Mr Turner said it would be churlish not to recognise it has made significant policy shifts."If one can believe that their policies in power will be those put over by the leadership, then one is in a somewhat different situation from 1983 and 1987," he told the Press Association news agency in his first big interview.

During those elections, he said, "We knew in advance that a Labour government would be a disaster for business and the economy. There has been a shift in attitude for the better".

But he told PA there were still doubts about Labour's commitment to seeing through its policy proposals. Another area of concern was the minimum wage, which the CBI opposed as not being the "best way to fight poverty".

Mr Adair, who replaces the highly regarded Howard Davies, shares his predecessor's concerns about the rises in top people's pay. Highly paid directors need to be brought back into line to help regain public confidence, particularly in privatised industries, he said.

Mr Adair said issues at the top of his agenda would be the European single currency, and standards in education and training. But he said the CBI would not enter the debate on a single currency on issues of "politics and sentiment" but on economics. "A big danger is if a single currency is associated with rising power in Brussels to make fiscal transfers to those parts of Europe which face the adjustment to a single currency with more difficulty."

He said business wanted "copper-bottomed guarantees" on European Union budget limits, fiscal transfers and a block on Brussels becoming an issuer of debt - a ban on interventionist measures in other words - before it would accept the time was right for considering a single currency.

He said businesses were also worried by falling standards at all levels of education and training, and feared the system was not producing pupils who were numerate, literate and adept at communication.

Mr Turner, 39, whose career has included spells at BP and Chase Manhattan Bank, was formerly with the McKinsey consultancy group. A past member of the Conservative and now defunct Social Democratic parties, he said he no longer has political ambitions. "I am very interested in public policy and I care a lot about public policy and that is why I have taken on a job in that arena. But I don't have aims in party politics."

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