Darling's growth figures were too optimistic, says poll

Businessmen are not convinced by some of the key arguments in Alistair Darling's Budget, according to a survey for The Independent.

The ComRes poll of 130 business leaders found that six out of 10 (61 per cent) believed the economy would grow this year by less than the 1 to 1.5 per cent forecast by the Chancellor. Some 34 per cent thought the Treasury's prediction was about right, while 5 per cent believed growth would be higher.

Only one in five (19 per cent) of businessmen agreed that Labour had better ideas than the Conservatives about how to maintain Britain's economic recovery, which will be Gordon Brown's main pitch at the general election. Some 72 per cent disagreed and 9 per cent didn't know.

In a boost for David Cameron and George Osborne, a majority (54 per cent) of business leaders believed the Tories would have managed the economy out of the downturn better than Labour did, while 29 per cent disagreed and 17 per cent said they didn't know. This calls into question another key plank of Labour's election strategy.

By a margin of 59 per cent to 34 per cent, businessmen preferred the Tory approach of cutting corporation tax paid by firms to Labour's plan to bring in new tax allowances, a raft of which were announced in the Budget. A Tory government would reduce the headline rate of corporation tax from 28 per cent to 25 per cent, funded by the abolition of some of the allowances favoured by Labour.

Only 13 per cent thought that the Budget would be good for their business, while twice as many (29 per cent) believed it would be bad. However, Labour will feel some relief that the biggest group (59 per cent) said Mr Darling's package would be "neutral" for their own company. One in five (19 per cent) business leaders said Wednesday's Budget would be good for the economy, while twice as many (39 per cent) believed it would be bad and 39 per cent thought it would be neutral.

Despite criticism that Labour and the Tories have moved closer together on policy, the businessmen detected "clear blue water" between them. Seven out of 10 (69 per cent) did not agree with the statement that there was not much to distinguish between the two main parties on economic policy, and only three in 10 (30 per cent) agreed.