Irvine's wallpaper firm in trouble

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The Independent Online
IT COSTS pounds 300 a roll, features hand-printed green pineapples and has already landed the Lord Chancellor in hot water.

But just when the Government thought that its decorating troubles were over, the wallpaper that adorns Lord Irvine's loo is once again causing a political stink.

Walker Greenbank, the company that makes the wall covering, yesterday blamed Labour's economic policies as it announced a pounds 3m drop in profits. The Hemel Hempstead-based firm said that the continuing strength of the pound had caused considerable damage to its business.

Nearly half of the company's turnover depends on exports and its annual report stated that difficult trading conditions in Europe had been worsened by the high level of sterling.

Walker Greenbank's chief executive, Aidan Connolly, said that the Government should act urgently to cut taxes and persuade the Bank of England to lower interest rates.

"This Government really hasn't delivered lower taxes and even though interest rates are coming down, they should be much lower, say, 3 per cent, to make a difference," he said.

Mr Connolly said that he felt no loyalty to the Government as his company had supplied the Palace of Westminster for years and Lord Irvine "just happened" to be in post when a refurbishment of his state apartments was needed.

Using language likely to make the Prime Minister, Tony Blair, blanch, he added that there was no way he could support Government policy. "We are a capitalist company, they are a socialist government," he said.

In the company's annual report, Mr Connolly stated: "Some 44 per cent of our turnover comes from our export efforts. It is inevitable that our profitability will be damaged with sterling at these levels."

John Redwood, the Conservative Trade and Industry spokesman, seized on these remarks as he launched the Tories' new job watch figures claiming that 10 people were put out of work every hour.

"Even the Lord Chancellor's vanity and the taxpayer's money can't make up for the failures of this Government's economic policies," he said.

"With sterling over DM2.90 and interest rates higher than on the continent, they have recreated the conditions of the ERM which act as a stranglehold on enterprise in the UK."