CBI presses for firm euro entry date

BUSINESS LEADERS are to step up pressure on the Government to set a firm date for Britain's entry into the single European currency, amid fears that companies may be delaying investment plans because of the uncertainty, writes Michael Harrison.

The Confederation of British Industry is to poll its members in the first half of next year on support for a fixed timetable for euro entry. At the moment the CBI supports a policy of joining when the economic conditions are right.

Sir Clive Thompson, CBI president, said the majority of firms were very much in support of joining the euro, but that they were not being helped by the Government's reluctance to set a date by which Britain would enter.

"Businesses will not make a decision to invest unless there's a very high chance of going in," said Sir Clive.

Earlier this week the Chancellor, Gordon Brown, and the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry moved Britain a significant step closer to membership of the euro, saying it was a matter of "when" to join, not "if".

The CBI is contributing to the Treasury's preparation of a national changeover plan which will set out the steps required to join the single currency, and the timing.

There are indications that Britain might not be able to convert fully to the single currency, including the introduction of euro notes and coins, until 2005 or 2006. However, Adair Turner, director general of the CBI, said the key date would not be when sterling notes and coins were phased out, but when the exchange rate was fixed and Britain came under a single European monetary policy.

The founder members of the single currency will convert on 1 January 1999, but will not introduce notes and coins until 2002. Mr Turner said that in the UK's case it would be possible to squeeze this three-year period but not eliminate it altogether.