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British PM calls for wartime spirit to fight weak economy

LONDON: Britain must ruthlessly pursue growth to secure its economic recovery, Prime Minister David Cameron told business leaders yesterday, invoking the wartime spirit that helped the nation defeat Adolf Hitler's Nazi regime.
The premier told the annual meeting of the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) that he has instructed all departments in the civil service to make economic growth a central aim.
Cameron's Conservative-led coalition government has already made big steps toward cutting costs and eliminating waste to slash the deficit and provide a stable business environment, he added.
"I want every department in Whitehall to be a growth department. I've insisted that every permanent secretary has growth as a key objective," Cameron told CBI delegates yesterday.
"And I want every minister and every official to understand that the dangers are not just in what you do, but what you don't do -- that the costs of delay are dealt in businesses going bust, jobs being lost, livelihoods being destroyed."
Britain escaped from recession in the third quarter but its outlook remains clouded by the impact of the ongoing euro zone debt crisis, harsh state austerity measures and inflationary pressures.
The Bank of England warned last week that the economy would shrink again in the fourth quarter in the absence of temporary factors like the London Olympic Games.
Cameron also outlined plans to cut through red tape and change the risk-averse culture of many civil servants.
"When this country was at war in the 1940s, Whitehall (Britain's civil service) underwent a revolution.
"Normal rules were circumvented. Convention was thrown out. As one historian put it, everything was thrown at the overriding purpose of beating Hitler.
"Well, this country is in the economic equivalent of war today — and we need the same spirit."
The economy grew by an impressive 1.0 percent in the three months to September, escaping from the longest double dip recession since the 1950s — and answering the prayers of many business leaders, according to the CBI.
"Reduced inflation and stable unemployment ... and most importantly, the first signs of growth that quite frankly we prayed for, (are) just starting to inch through," added CBI president Roger Carr in his opening address.
"So it's no surprise that the mood from our members is: It's tough, but could be worse."
The CBI — the country's biggest employers' organization — is a powerful business lobby in Britain and represents more than 240,000 companies or about one third of the private sector.
This year, the group is calling for the government to target education as its number one priority as part of Britain's long-term growth strategy.
And it appealed to finance minister George Osborne to continue his austerity policies.
"The CBI's message to the Chancellor — keep prescribing the medicine, but resist increasing the dosage," added Carr.
"The patient is fragile — accept a longer convalescence — it is infinitely preferable to the risk of sudden relapse from a heavy overdose. However well intentioned, the doctor must be patient."
Britain's Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition government, which inherited a record deficit from the previous Labour administration, has since slashed public expenditure and ramped up taxation in a bid to balance the books.
Cameron added yesterday that the coalition has sought to target certain cutbacks and taxes to avoid hurting the economy.
"You need a government that is tough; that can take the big, difficult decisions where they really matter. And nowhere does that matter more than on sorting out the deficit.
"Never forget — we inherited a deficit bigger than Spain's. Bigger even than Greece. This has meant taking decisions no other government dreamt of taking before."
The CBI meanwhile vowed to argue against a vote for Britain to leave the EU, in any potential referendum on European Union membership, amid dwindling public support for the country's place in the bloc.
Carr described EU membership as a "launchpad" for international trade involving non-euro zone member Britain, adding that half of the nation's exports went to Europe.

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