Letters - Letter of the week

The idea that we should ignore the Chancellor's drive to boost productivity because so far progress has been slow ("Stop aping the US, Gordon", 12 August) is simply an apologia for British management's incompetence. Faisal Islam is right that in the first term, Labour appeared to be obsessed with dotcoms and the new economy. He is also right that this led to neglect of the UK's manufacturing base. But he should give credit where it is due - Patricia Hewitt has recognised that this was a big policy mistake and that the government's new strategy for manufacturing is a significant step in the right direction.

The major policy question is how we get higher productivity and a fair distribution of the rewards. My view is that we have more to learn from the EU than from the US, whose productivity miracle is looking decidedly shaky in the age of Enron and WorldCom. Looking across the Channel, we can see a "high road" to productivity entrenched in the European social model - investing for the long term in workforce development, providing minimum standards of employment protection, giving workers control over the organisation of their work, and reducing working hours. By contrast, in much of the UK and the US there is a slash-and-burn "low road" that cuts jobs or engages in wasteful mergers and acquisitions to maximise shareholder value. The TUC will shortly be setting out detailed arguments why high performance is more likely to be achieved by moving the UK closer to the EU social model.

John Monks
TUC general secretary
London WC1

This article first appeared in the 19 August 2002 issue of the New Statesman, Prison can be the right place for kids