Major trumpets productivity rises: Prime Minister issues challenge to European Community competitors

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Indy Politics
JOHN MAJOR blew the trumpet for British manufacturing last night with a remarkable, fighting challenge to EC competitors: 'Anything you can do, we can do better.'

Addressing the annual dinner of the Confederation of British Industry in London, the Prime Minister said there was no call for defeatism on manufacturing.

He said that in the 1980s, manufacturing productivity had outpaced that of the United States and all other major European economies - and was more than double that of West Germany.

Citing the latest figures, he added: 'We've increased productivity over 7 per cent in just the past year. . . But let me give you a longer perspective. Look back to 1981, the bottom of the previous European recession. Since then, France has increased its manufacturing output by a creditable 7 per cent. West Germany has done better, an increase of 13 per cent. But Britain has increased its manufacturing output by over 24 per cent. These are outstanding figures.

'Of course, we need to do better still. Much better. But my point is simply this: in the 1980s, we turned the tide; in the 1990s, we can catch the flood.'

But his most confident statement was on trade with Europe, which he described not so much as an export market as 'now, our home market'.

'We have all heard about Britain selling televisions to Germany and lace to Brussels. But traditional French soups to Paris? Pizzas to Italy? Why not? Like the old song says, 'Anything you can do, we can do better.' That's why we have fought for a competitive Europe. One in which every country is forced to obey the rules.'

He said that was why the Government had also fought to keep the rules to a minimum, and why he had fought to keep Britain free of the Social Chapter of the Maastricht treaty. 'The Single Market is the opportunity of a business lifetime,' the Prime Minister said. 'I don't intend to let Brussels spoil it for Britain.

'Of course, some of our European partners complain. They don't want Britain to become a magnet for investment, a seed- bed for growth, a haven for jobs. But. . . Europe as a whole needs to keep its costs down - and sharpen its competitive edge.'

Mr Major said Whitehall had to deliver the best export services in the world; progress, not words, was required on Gatt; the 'weeds' of regulation had to be uprooted; private sector partnership would be sought to improve the infrastructure; education had to be tested; 'the tattered patchwork quilt of vocational qualifications (had to be turned) into the banner of progress'; and best scientific practice had to be turned into common practice across industry.

Leaseholders who fail to achieve the necessary majority for buying the freeholds of their blocks of flats will be allowed the fall-back right to buy a new lease under a major Government concession announced last night in the Lords' Report Stage debate on the Housing and Urban Development Bill.