Gordon Brown was accused today of insulting the intelligence of British business by one of the country's top executives.
Sir Stuart Rose, executive chairman of Marks & Spencer and a member of the Prime Minister's business council, hit out after Mr Brown claimed business leaders had been "deceived" over Labour's planned rise in National Insurance.
The chiefs of more than 60 top companies have backed the Tories' opposition to the rise in an intense political row which has so far dominated the General Election debate.
Mr Brown suggested yesterday that business leaders had been "deceived" by the Tories.
Sir Stuart, who signed a letter criticising the National Insurance rise last week, told BBC Radio 4's Today programme this morning: "It's unfortunate that we have been dismissed.
"This is an important argument and to insult the collective intelligence of 60-plus chief executives is unhelpful.
"This is not a political point so much as a point about where tax should be levied.
"Everybody knows that the country needs to sort itself out and this was a serious attempt to have a voice on the subject."
Mr Brown claims Tory plans to scrap the bulk of the National Insurance rise pencilled in for next April would take £6 billion out of the economy.
Sir Stuart's comments come as Mr Brown was stepping up his attack on the Tories over National Insurance in the belief that Labour can benefit from the debate about tax and spending.
But the M&S boss signalled a growing backlash against the Prime Minister among the business community.
Another of the signatories of the letter, Risk Capital Partners founder Luke Johnson, has also described Mr Brown's remarks as "insulting".
Sir Stuart said that, as a retailer, he would not vote for VAT going up as an alternative, but as a UK citizen he would accept it as "something we need to do".
But he said that the business leaders were making a bigger point about the need to reduce government waste in the same way that the private sector had been forced to do in the past couple of years.
"I think the thing that's been missed here partly, is that one of the things that was in the letter that I signed, and many other people signed, is that there is a huge opportunity to reduce waste in government," he said.
"And I think that's the point that's been missed. Businesses over the last 18 or 24 months have worked very hard to cut their own costs to be efficient.
"Is government efficient? Can waste be taken out of government?
"That's one of the points in the letter that has been missed, I think there's a great opportunity there and I think it's one that should be grasped."
Sir Stuart denied that he has been offered a job and a peerage by Tory leader David Cameron. Asked if he would take them, if offered, he added: "Absolutely not."
Mr Cameron strongly defended his plan to reverse most of the National Insurance rise, funded by government effiency savings.
"We are coming out of recession, the economy is starting to grow, the very craziest thing to do right now would be to put an extra tax on every job in the country," he told GMTV.
"What Gordon Brown has said is that he has identified £11 billion of waste, but he doesn't want to do anything about it until next year.
"We think that is mad. Why not cut the waste this year to stop the taxes?"
Mr Brown said he attached "no blame to business", but insisted the Conservatives were responsible for misleading them over their plans.
"I say the Conservative Party are misleading them," he told the Today programme. "I attach no blame to the business community."
He accused the Tories of having "dreamed up" £12 billion of efficiency savings this year to pay for their plans.
"What business hasn't been told is that we are already putting in £15 billion of efficiency savings, what they haven't been told is that £35 billion of efficiency savings have been achieved in the last few years," he said.
"And what they haven't been told is that you cannot effectively get £27 billion in one year - which is equivalent to half of the education budget - without laying thousands of people off and without losses of businesses and loss of jobs."
He added that if Chancellor Alistair Darling had claimed he could suddenly produce £27 billion of efficiency savings, nobody would have believed him.
"If the Chancellor had announced that and said he was going to do it in a few weeks, nobody would have believed him and don't think people can believe the Conservative policy," he said.
Mr Brown said the entire Conservative spending plans were built on a a "myth".
"The basic truth is can you dream up £12 billion of extra efficiency savings making £27 billion - half the education budget, just as much as the defence budget - in a few weeks over the nine months of this year? And the answer is it is not possible," he said.
"The Conservatives are building every single policy on a myth that they can get these savings."Reuse content