Conran backs Labour on industry

Sir Terence Conran - designer, restaurateur, founder of Habitat and former chairman of Storehouse - attacked the Government for failing to show enthusiasm about manufacturing and said he supported Labour policy and expected the party to win the next election.

Speaking at the launch of six Labour task forces on business policy, Sir Terence endorsed comments by the party's trade and industry spokesman, Margaret Beckett, adding that "Britain has the opportunity to be the enterprise centre of Europe - all the signs, the possibilities and the talent is here. Sadly, there doesn't seem to be any government enthusiasm for manufacturing."

He believed there was ''much greater understanding by Labour that the skills that design and innovation can bring to industry will have a very stimulating effect on the economy."

Sir Terence is a member of the task force on innovation, design, science and technology, whose first meeting yesterday included representatives of SmithKline Beecham, Digital Equipment and Nissan. David Allen, marketing director of Digital and a member of the task force, refused to align himself with Labour but was strongly critical of the shortage of skills in Britain and the lack of action to create them.

Other task forces include executives from NatWest, JP Morgan, British Gas and 3i, who have been invited to join as part of a wide-ranging dialogue between Labour and business on policy for the City, the utilities, competition, innovation, small business and competitiveness.

Sir Terence's unequivocal backing for Labour could embarrass some of the other participants in the task forces, which have been set up to give practical advice from experts on how the detail of Labour's industrial policies should be formulated, on the understanding that involvement does not mean a commitment to the party.

Sir Terence said later: "This is a non-political project which we hope to support because we care about the future of Britain. I don't think any one of us want to be seen as strong Labour or Tory supporters."

The views of the task forces will not be binding on Labour policymakers when they draft documents in the summer for the party conference. But they are expected to be influential.There are already signs that policies on the utilities and competition may be watered down to meet criticisms by the task forces. Reform of regulation is expected to take account of the wider role of the utilities in the economy as well as their importance to the consumer.

In competition policy, the promise to make companies prove mergers are in the public interest may be modified, by keeping the impact on competition as the main criterion.

Mrs Beckett said Labour needed to provide workable solutions to real problems. She said Ian Lang, president of the Board of Trade, arrogantly demanded industry's support at the CBI conference while failing to win its respect. "It is Labour which is speaking with industry and commerce in a process of ongoing dialogue and consultation," she added.