British PM calls for wartime spirit to fight weak economy

Updated 20 November 2012
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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.


Taxi drivers, Uber square up on Istanbul’s roads

Updated 22 April 2018
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Taxi drivers, Uber square up on Istanbul’s roads

  • Uber has enjoyed soaring popularity in Istanbul, where users appreciate the cashless payment system, security and convenience of hailing a cab by phone
  • This has stoked antagonism with official taxi drivers, who have brought legal cases in Istanbul in a bid to have the app blocked in Turkey

ISTANBUL: Istanbul’s bright yellow taxis, ubiquitous and perennially honking for custom, appear ingrained in the daily life of the Turkish metropolis.
But could the fast-growing ride sharing app Uber make them a thing of the past?
Uber has enjoyed soaring popularity in Istanbul, where users appreciate the cashless payment system, security and convenience of hailing a cab by phone.
But, as in several other European cities, this has stoked antagonism with official taxi drivers, who have brought legal cases in Istanbul in a bid to have the app blocked in Turkey.
Tensions have also spilt over into violence, with Uber drivers complaining of being verbally harassed, beaten up or even shot at.
Kemal Kuru, an Uber driver since last year, said he was cornered and beaten by a group as he set off for a concert hall in the Sisli district last month on a job.
“I went to pick up a customer around midnight but someone blocked the road and harassed me verbally,” he told AFP.
“I got out of the car and all of a sudden 10 people attacked me... My teeth were broken and my lip was split.”
Kuru said the assailants could not be immediately identified as they fled into the darkness. But he pointed the finger at taxi drivers.
“I believe our income is getting on their nerves and they think we are stealing their customers.”
In March, shots were fired at an Uber vehicle in Istanbul’s Kucukcekmece district. The driver escaped unhurt.
Uber drivers say they are easily targeted as the vans they generally drive are unusual in the city.
But representatives of official taxi companies condemn such accusations — widely publicized in the Turkish media — as a stunt to discredit their business.
Eyup Aksu, head of the main taxi drivers’ association in Istanbul, accused Uber of launching a “publicity campaign” in an attempt to influence the pending legal cases.
“Taxi drivers have never resorted to violence against Uber. This is a smear campaign to blacken the reputation of taxis,” he told AFP in his Istanbul office.
There are almost 17,400 official yellow taxis in Istanbul, providing an essential and relatively affordable service in a gigantic city where public transport often falls short.
But as new competitors like Uber have emerged, the official taxis have often failed to keep pace with changing times and society.
They have been slow to implement systems to pay by card, install panic buttons that help female passengers in particular feel more secure and are only now considering lights to indicate if the cab is occupied or free.
In a bid to trump Uber, Istanbul taxis are themselves now becoming part of a digital network called iTaksi that allows passengers to order them from their phone.
Aksu admitted some deficiencies in the taxi sector but said taxis were transforming to catch up with Uber’s standards.
“We are shifting to luxurious taxi transport. We now have VIP transport in some touristic places and airports,” he said.
Meanwhile horror taxi stories abound in Istanbul — not just from incredulous tourists but also exasperated locals — about being over-charged, driven a circuitous route to ramp up the meter or being given fake change.
In a well publicized case, an Istanbul court this month handed a taxi driver a suspended jail term for having taken a Saudi passenger on an epic city tour rather than to the airport as requested.
But Istanbul taxi drivers insist they are working hard to make an honest living from a tough business where margins were already tight and now squeezed further by Uber’s presence.
Taxi drivers rent their car from the owner of the license, whose cost of 1.5 million lira (300,000 euros, $370,000) is well beyond most drivers.
The number of license plates available for taxis has stayed stable as the city’s population boomed, driving up their price.
Taxi driver Burhan Yuksek, looking for passengers in the busy waterside Eminonu district, said his business is suffering “hugely” because of Uber.
“I work by a hotel. We used to receive 40-50 calls daily from the hotel and currently it has dropped to 15-20,” he said. “They are pirates. They are stealing our labor and bread.”
Taxi drivers feel they have political backing, with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan regularly pictured drinking tea with the taxi community.
In the bigger of two legal actions brought by taxi drivers’ associations against Uber, an Istanbul court is due to resume hearing the case on June 4.
The tension in Turkey is one of a number of headaches for Uber and its new chief executive Dara Khosrowshahi, who took over last August after founder Travis Kalanick was ousted following a series of scandals.
In London where its drivers number around 40,000, Uber lost its license over its approach to reporting serious criminal offenses and its criminal record checks for drivers.
But it is allowed to operate in the British capital pending an appeal set for later this year.
Uber also put a temporary halt to its self-driving car program in the United States after an accident involving one of its cars near Phoenix killed a pedestrian.
In service for three years in Turkey, Uber has 5,000 vehicles and 8,000 drivers in Istanbul.
Vedat Kaya, of the Tourism and Development Platform, said Uber represented a “revolt against the taxi monopoly,” adding that some 4,500 taxi drivers had already switched to work with Uber.
Former taxi driver Yavuz Sarac, who joined Uber last summer, says he did it after realizing he would not own his own business “no matter if I work for 150 years.”
“Uber has presented new opportunities. I’ve owned my business,” he said, complaining that taxi drivers were exploited by the plate owners, while the Uber license was much less costly.
“I earn a living for my family. To me, it is a kind of escape from slavery to freedom.”