CBI boss condemns politicians' 'anti-business rhetoric'

John Cridland says outcry risks sending a message that UK is not open for business
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The Independent Online

The leader of Britain's top employers' body has called on politicians to stop bashing business for fear it is damaging the already-fragile economy. John Cridland, director-general of the Confederation of British Industry, said he thought attacks on top bosses had increased as fears over economic growth had risen.

"The anti-business rhetoric that we saw in the autumn at the three party conferences has increased since," Mr Cridland said. "I don't think it's an accident that it has increased as public nervousness at the state of the economy has increased. As people feel understandably worried about our economic prospects, politicians are looking for some way to characterise that frustration."

After a week in which Stephen Hester, the Royal Bank of Scotland chief executive, bowed to pressure and gave up his bonus – and his predecessor Fred Goodwin was stripped of his knighthood – Mr Cridland added that it appeared some politicians were implying rewards for success were debatable, not just rewards for failure.

"It's a long time since we have heard the Tony Blairs and Peter Mandelsons of this world saying they are relaxed about rewards for success. At the moment politicians are outbidding each other to pursue the crony capitalism line".

Mr Cridland's comments follow similar warnings from other prominent business leaders at the weekend. The advertising executive Sir Martin Sorrell said that "indiscriminate business bashing" could hobble the private sector. And Michael Spencer, chief executive of Icap, said the treatment of Mr Hester "was very negative indeed for the message it sends to the business community at large".

Mr Cridland is concerned about a continued public outcry. Over the next few months, most blue-chip companies will announce annual profits and how much they are paying board members. Sustained criticism could hit confidence, growth and jobs. He said: "It is deeply dangerous because you only know the damage after it has been done, and that will be high-wealth, high-talent individuals deciding that Britain is not open for business. If they go, how long will their companies stay?"

Mr Cridland added: "The whole team knows that their performance requires one or two star players and I think it's the same with a board of directors".

The Prime Minister, David Cameron, is due to hold a meeting of his business advisory panel this week at which these concerns are expected to be aired.