It's like living in a banana republic, says CBI chief

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The Independent Online

The head of Britain's biggest employers' organisation, the Confederation of British Industry, said yesterday he could understand why people might feel they were now living in a "banana republic" - with partsof the country under water, the rail system grinding to a halt and petrol stations running out of fuel.

The head of Britain's biggest employers' organisation, the Confederation of British Industry, said yesterday he could understand why people might feel they were now living in a "banana republic" - with partsof the country under water, the rail system grinding to a halt and petrol stations running out of fuel.

"That is precisely how anybody would think from a businessman to a lady standing in a bus shelter in Blackburn, Lancashire," said Digby Jones, the director general of the CBI.

In an interview with The Independent ahead of the CBI's annual conference in Birmingham next week, Mr Jones also called for a "serious overhaul" of the planning system and warned that rail passengers would suffer "serious disruption" for the next three or four years because of the maintenance blitz on the network.

He added that travellers on London's tube system, which is also due to be part-privatised, would have to put up with the same sort of misery for two or three years.

But, said Mr Jones, the disruption was a "price worth paying" if Britain was tohave a first-class rail system.

His comments about the dilapidated state of Britain's transport infrastructure and lack of a coherent planning regime could cause embarrassment for the Government.

Two cabinet ministers - the Chancellor, Gordon Brown, and the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, Stephen Byers - are scheduled to speak in Birmingham next week, as is Lord Macdonald of Tradeston, the Transport minister.

But Mr Jones also took a swipe at the Conservatives, suggesting they would not get the business vote at the next election because of their "mistake" in ruling out membership of the euro.

"The CBI doesn't do itself any favours if it is seen to be too cosy with anyone," said Mr Jones.

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