Let's get on with it, bosses tell Beckett

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The Independent Online
AFTER the euro-fudge of Brussels the bandwagon moved to Birmingham yesterday, where Midlands businessmen gathered at the NEC to find out what the single currency would mean for British industry.

The 200 delegates who turned up to hear Margaret Beckett, President of the Board of Trade, launch the first in a series of government seminars did not attach much importance to whether a 63-year-old Dutchman would still be running the European central bank in four or eight years time.

They were much more interested in what the euro would mean for their bottom line, even though the pound may not join until well into the next millennium. Mrs Beckett warned her audience that it was "dangerous and complacent" to believe they needed to take no action yet. But she was preaching to the converted.

Richard Brucciani, chairman of PAL International, a manufacturer of chefs' hats based in Oadby, Leicestershire, employing 155 people, is already aware of the dangers. His company will be reliant upon countries in the euro zone for nearly half its sales.

"The single currency is a threat that we have to turn into an opportunity," he says. "The moment it arrives we will have to start publishing price lists in euros and that will lead to price reductions, which is good for the consumer but which will put our margins under greater pressure. The plus side is that the euro will also open up markets more."

Tony Bennett, general manager of Linx International, a manufacturer of picture frames based in Mablethorpe on the Lincolnshire coast, is also concerned about pricing in euros. "I would like to think we will produce a euro price list but whether we publish it will depend on how much the pound fluctuates against the euro."

With the strong pound having savaged export profits in the last two years, he sees the euro as an opportunity to create a more stable business climate and backs early entry provided the conditions are right.

Tony Shepherd, chairman of Alderley Holdings, an equipment supplier to the oil industry based in Wickwar, Gloucestershire, says we should enter now. In the short term it will mean his firm no longer has to hedge in both dollars and euros - an exercise that already ties up a quarter of its working capital. In the longer term it will mean lower interest rates and greater transparency, he believes.

The Government may be cautious about membership but the message from Birmingham was "Get on with it". Next stop Cwmbran.