James Moore: Sainsbury's chief is talking sense, but Osborne chooses to turn a deaf ear

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The Independent Online

Outlook Justin King knows a thing or two about employee share ownership. Some 40,000 of his colleagues have shares in Sainsbury's, and 11,000 of them picked up payouts totalling £26.5m last year through the supermarket group's share save scheme.

As the chief executive of a big business, you'd think Mr King would be cheering George Osborne's plan to allow him to offer his staff the chance to give up what the Chancellor thinks are irksome and costly employment rights in exchange for tax-free shares.

Except that he's not. Mr King would rather the Government concentrate on lowering, for example, employer's national insurance contributions. That is an idea that might be worth listening to because, who knows, it might even pay for itself by encouraging employment if Mr King is right and it removes an impediment to hiring.

More hiring might even stimulate a decrepit economy which no less than the IMF thinks will remain in the doghouse until at least next year (there were more bad figures on output and trade yesterday).

Ah but, says Mr Osborne, my measures are aimed at small firms. So that's all right then. Except that it isn't: what bothers a lot of people about the current economic difficulties and how policymakers have reacted to them is the way people have been set against each other. Public sector against private sector, big business against small business, workers against bosses.

Mr Osborne's plan promises more of this, as well as being a cynical way of bringing the repellent Adrian Beecroft's report, calling for employers to be given the right to fire at will, in by the back door.

So, on the one hand, you have a chief executive of one of Britain's biggest businesses, someone who has revived a once-moribund retailer and put thousands of people to work as a result, outlining a constructive idea.

On the other, you have a vulture who made £100m through slashing jobs and then helped bring Wonga.com to the world when not writing reports for his pals in government, or racing classic cars.

The Chancellor has chosen to listen to the latter because he wants to burnish his Thatcherite credentials. The Gentleman's not for turning, regardless of how much damage this causes to the economy, and society.