Stars fly in for Brown's enterprise conference

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The Independent Online

Gordon Brown will today promise business leaders a Budget for science and skills as he launches a one-day conference on enterprise that includes finance ministers, central bankers and top executives. He has already assured a sprinkling of stardust for the event by proposing Bill Gates, the Microsoft founder, for an honorary knighthood.

Amid an array of initiatives the Chancellor will propose an annual "enterprise week", Queen's Awards for individual entrepreneurs and a survey of entrepreneurship. He will also announce changes to regulation to make it easier for "business angel" investors to provide finance and support.

The events were condemned as a "staged exercise" by the Conservatives and are understood to have annoyed some in the Labour Party, who see them as a distraction at the start of the toughest week of Tony Blair's premiership.

Mr Brown will say Britain should see business leaders and entrepreneurs as role models in the same way it idolises sports stars like David Beckham or Jonny Wilkinson. "The more enterprising Britain is, the more flexible and reforming we become, the more we can gather in a consensual way, with a shared sense of purpose," he told GMTV yesterday.

The Chancellor is planning an annual enterprise week in November to promote Government efforts to encourage business growth. He will publish a new paper on British entrepreneurial activity and attitudes to setting up in business, showing: 200,000 more small companies than 10 years ago - and 3.4 million self-employed people in the UK, the highest total since 1991; and improving attitudes to enterprise, with nine out of 10 people saying they admired small business owners.

The Chancellor will use the London summit to unveil a plan to crack down on European red tape. The plan covers the current Irish presidency of the EU and the subsequent three - Holland, Luxembourg and Britain - to bring a review of new and existing regulations.

The Chancellor will announce the Queen and other members of the royal family will undertake visits to winners of this year's Queen's Award for Enterprise. Buckingham Palace will reveal it is considering extending the awards to individuals who have made outstanding contributions to enterprise. A Treasury source said: "These would not be awards simply for the job you've held, but for the jobs you've created."

Mr Gates, whose honorary knighthood is for "outstanding services to global enterprise", will be among a stellar list of business names at today's conference. UK chief executives will include Jean-Pierre Garnier of GlaxoSmithKline, Sir Terry Leahy of Tesco, and Sir Niall Fitzgerald of Unilever.

Mr Brown will share a stage with the finance ministers of Germany, Ireland, Spain, the Netherlands and from the US - albeit by videoscreen - Treasury Secretary John Snow and Alan Greenspan of the Federal Reserve.

Oliver Letwin, the shadow chancellor, said: "It is not at all clear how this conference will make any contribution to Britain's competitiveness. At best it is likely to be a costly waste of time."