James Ashton: How ministers can win over business

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The Independent Online

Another contribution to the canon of criticism over how the Government regards business came my way this week. One chief executive I sat down with took a moment to find the right word.

Then he came out with it: ambivalence. He awards full marks to David Cameron and colleagues for leading trade missions to Asia. It's just everything else in between that could be done better. The Government is "episodic" in its backing of business, he said. It needs to follow up harder on leads created by the handshakes.

Fair enough. Chief executives often have an axe to grind. But in the same conversation, it was clear he remained a strong supporter of Boris Johnson as Mayor of London , praising him for being outward-looking and understanding the need to encourage talent and entrepreneurialism in the capital.

Mr Johnson's popularity must be frustrating for the PM, whose is battling against a mid-term lull in voter support, but it is hardly surprising. All the Mayor has to do to keep business happy is make sure the trains and tubes run smoothly and keep a tight grip on law and order. Then he must wave the flag for London on the world stage, drumming up interest from inward investors. Even solving the looming lack of capacity at airports in South-east England doesn't sit purely in his in-tray.

Contrast that with the Coalition, which is trying to drain more taxes from the rich, most of whom live in the capital, and it's not hard to see why Mr Johnson finds it easier to make friends.

A second boss I had lunch with had a more positive tale. He'd invited the Business Secretary, Vince Cable, to tour his firm's offices. "He came for lunch and he listened," the chief executive said. In an age when politicians enjoy the sound of the own voices, you can't say fairer than that. Maybe there is hope for the Liberal Democrats, despite their awful poll ratings.