Anti-business! Britain? Surely not

To have Britain dubbed anti-business under a Conservative government is surprising some

By Michelle Perry | Published 16:37, 01 February 12

Anti-bizWho’d have thought a Conservative-led government would stir up such anti-business sentiment?

Last week business secretary Vince Cable – or as he might be known in corporate circle anti-business secretary – published a package of far-reaching proposals to shake up the rules governing executive remuneration with proposals for a binding shareholder vote.

Just days later as public pressure was mounting, ministers clearly spent the weekend pressuring current CEO of the part-nationalised Royal Bank of Scotland – Stephen Hester – to forgo his near £1 million bonus fearing the growing chorus of public indignation.

And yesterday came the news that (Sir) Fred Goodwin, former CEO of RBS, was to be stripped of his knighthood. I don’t disagree with the outcome, but I am concerned about the random nature of singling out a lone businessman – albeit it a high-profile one who mismanaged a British bank – so that politicians can cleanse themselves of any role they may have played in the financial collapse, painful recession and stagnating economy.

Rather than go into the seemingly arbitrary nature with which ministers have influenced the honours committee to strip Goodwin of his title, I’d rather focus on the mounting concerns among business leaders that the UK is becoming anti-business; swinging from a perceived bias towards corporates to one that is fervently against them – at least on the surface. Neither stance, of course, correct.

A leading chief financial officer recently told me of his concerns over a sense of a growing anti-business sentiment that was damaging Britain because investors were being put off injecting money in the UK.

“If you are an overseas company looking to invest in the UK and you just read the headlines in the British press it’s hard to say that Britain isn’t anti-business,” Andrew MacFarlane, CFO of Irish flag carrier Aer Lingus told me recently.

With competition heating up from all corners of the global – Brazil and wider Latin America, Russia, India and China – Britain cannot afford to be viewed – whether it is correct or not – as anti-business.

When CFOs are voicing their worries and it is the finance chiefs who most regularly talk directly to investors – it’s time for politicians to temper their language. Prime minister David Cameron needs to stop reacting to events and begin to show he has a robust strategy to haul Britain out of this limp economic recovery without easy shots at already disgraced businessmen like Goodwin.

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