Business leaders condemn Darling's response to crisis

Business leaders have delivered an overwhelming vote of no confidence in the Government's efforts to prevent recession-hit small firms from going bankrupt.

A ComRes poll of business leaders for The Independent reveals widespread disillusionment with efforts by both the Chancellor, Alistair Darling, and the Bank of England to ease the impact of the downturn.

A minority say they can detect the first signs of a recovery, but most remain deeply pessimistic about the prospects for the UK economy.

They are also withering about the effectiveness of the Government's loan guarantee scheme, which is designed to maintain the flow of cash to viable businesses during the recession. More than three-quarters – 78 per cent – said it had failed to stimulate lending by banks, while just 2 per cent believed it had succeeded.

Only 20 per cent said they were confident in the Prime Minister's ability – a slump of 10 points since last month and less than half the figure in October at the peak of the "Brown bounce". Confidence in Mr Darling was even lower at 17 per cent. By contrast, David Cameron scored a 51 per cent confidence rating, closely followed by Liberal Democrat Treasury spokesman Vince Cable on 49 per cent.

Thirty-eight per cent believe a government of national unity – with places for Mr Cable and the shadow Business Secretary Kenneth Clarke – should be formed to co-ordinate Britain's response to the recession.

Only one in 10 agreed with the proposition that the Bank of England's response has been "prompt and effective", with 70 per cent disagreeing, while 57 per cent opposed the Bank's proposals to print more money to revive the economy.

According to the poll of 161 business leaders, 18 per cent said they could detect early signs of recovery in their sector, compared with 71 per cent who saw no evidence of "green shoots".

Following the controversy over the RBS decision to pay staff bonuses that could amount to more than £900m, 84 per cent back a ban on all bonuses in banks that have received public funds.

And nearly two-thirds – 65 per cent – agree that the Government was wrong to have encouraged the takeover of HBOS by Lloyds.

The Confederation of British Industry protested that the Government's recovery plans had left both businesses and the public feeling "confused". Richard Lambert, its director general, said major initiatives were being lost in a "thicket of much less ambitious announcements", adding: "The Government appears to have been fighting a series of forest fires rather than building a platform for economic recovery. There's little sense of a coherent strategy about what's happened to date."

Mr Lambert went on: "It's hard to remember – let alone to distinguish between – the welter of initiatives that the Government has launched in the past couple of months."

The former Financial Times editor suggested that ministers might learn some lessons from US President Barack Obama's approach and set up a website to explain the Government's recovery initiatives, as well as to track their progress.

20%

Proportion of business leaders who have confidence in Gordon Brown.

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