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Wanted by the EU: A UK Productivity Tsar

BRITAIN WILL gain a new competitiveness and productivity "tsar" to help boost growth and job creation, under plans to be published today to revitalise the European economy.

The post would be drawn from the ranks of government ministers and help sell the "Lisbon process" of EU-wide economic reform, which will be relaunched today by the president of the European Commission, Jose Manuel Barroso.

Like all 25 EU countries, the UK would set up a "National Action Programme for Jobs and Growth", adopted after discussions in Parliament and with employers and unions.

Mr Barroso's paper stresses the need for countries to make good promises to push through difficult economic reforms. He believes that a key element should be the creation of "a Mr or Mrs Lisbon at government level charged with co-ordinating the different elements of the strategy".

His paper also sidelines the original ambition which was for Europe to overtake the US in economic performance by 2010. Instead it talks of reviewing progress in three-year cycles.

The plan calls for increased investment in research and development, better targeting of regional aid and state aid, structural reforms, reduced regulation on business and more liberalisation. And the paper highlights productivity as a key area of concern.

The British government will back today's document - apart from its calls for harmonisation of the base of corporate taxation throughout the EU.

Britain has already promised to oppose such a move which cannot be pushed through without unanimous agreement. A group of countries may decide to proceed, however.