Big business raises voice in British election campaign

GMT 13:27 2015 Thursday ,05 February

Arab Today, arab today Big business raises voice in British election campaign

Britain's Prime Minister David Cameron (L)
London - AFP

Big business is getting vocal ahead of Britain's general election, raising concerns ranging from Labour's economic plans to a referendum on European Union membership promised by the Conservatives.
Stefano Pessina, the Italian head of the pharmacy chain Walgreens Boots Alliance, which employs 70,000 people in Britain, has led the charge against Labour in recent days, stirring up a political storm.
Pessina told The Sunday Telegraph that Labour's plan for power was "not helpful for business", reflecting worries in some circles about the prospect of tax increases and less action on tackling the deficit.
Labour quickly hit back, defending its economic plans and branding the Monaco-based billionaire a tax exile.
But the party's attempt to show it did have the support of leading executives backfired when its chief economic official Ed Balls struggled during a BBC interview to name any business backers.
Balls named one supporter he called simply "Bill" -- and yet struggled to remember his surname.
He later tweeted: "It's an age thing!"
That prompted scathing mockery from Prime Minister David Cameron who told parliament: "Bill somebody is not a person, Bill somebody is Labour's policy!".
"Those that have been vocal recently tend to have clear ties to the Conservatives," Simon Wren-Lewis, a professor at Oxford University, told AFP.
The Conservative Party and the many newspapers that support them "will obviously give a lot of publicity to those that are prepared to publicly attack Labour, so it's difficult to know how representative they are," he said.
- Between rock and hard place -
The election in May promise to be a close-run affair and the economic recovery is helping Cameron.
The economy clocked 2.6-percent growth in 2014, unemployment is at its lowest level in six years and real revenues have started growing again.
But Cameron's promise of a referendum on Britain's EU membership by 2017 -- a concession to eurosceptics in his party -- is a headache for businesses.
It's the "biggest cloud on the horizon", said Martin Sorrell, head of the publicity giant WPP, who has spoken of his fears that companies will delay investment decisions ahead of the referendum.
The big business lobby, the Confederation of British Industry (CBI), said the net benefit of EU membership to Britain is worth around £62 to 78 billion (82 to 103 billion euros) per year, or around four to five percent of gross domestic product.
"I do think it is a difficult situation for business, which in a sense is caught between a rock and a hard place. Of course, business might hope that a referendum could be won, but there would be considerable uncertainty in the meantime," said Wyn Grant, a professor at the University of Warwick.
"Labour under Miliband, on the other hand, appears to be less sympathetic to business than New Labour and emphasises issues of tax avoidance that are uncomfortable for some businesses," he said.
The only certainty is that companies hate uncertainty.
In a survey by the consultancy Deloitte, top executives said their biggest worry was the looming election -- followed by Britain's EU referendum and eurozone instability on an equal footing.


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