The director general of the British Chambers of Commerce has urged the government to support firms in a bid to make Britain “great”.
John Longworth called for “radical action” to get to grips with factors getting in the way of economic growth, urging ministers to be “bold”.
Speaking at the BCC’s annual conference in London, he slammed the country’s infrastructure and planning regime, calling on ministers to “set business free”.
The director general also suggested that the number of workers with the skills required by industry was insufficient.
He called on the government to support Britain’s “fantastic” businesses, suggesting the mood among firms was more upbeat than reports have stated.
He said: “We have fantastic businesses in Britain. Businesses that export flat-screen TVs to China, ice cream to Norway, clocks to Switzerland, scarves to Russia and soft drinks to Africa. All of these businesses are busting a gut to grow, create wealth, employ people and find new markets for export. They are more optimistic than the media would have us believe, but they do need more support.”
But he went on to question the effects of infrastructure upon the UK economy, calling the planning regime “impossible”.
He added: “In Britain, we have an impossible planning regime which prevents our development and growth. Add to this terrible infrastructure which adds cost and dumbs down economic activity, a shortage of people with the right soft and technical skills, our young people failed by the education system and a Whitehall machine that knows nothing of how a business really operates – and cares less.”
Longworth urged the government to use the Budget to offer businesses a helping hand.
“Never before has it been more important that government is prepared to be bold and take radical action. George Osborne has an opportunity in the Budget, less than one week away, to improve the business environment,” he said.
He went on: “We live in trying times and these dictate innovative and radical solutions. So my message to the government is simple – set business free, stimulate private investment, create access to capital, incentivise the productive sector and stop pussy-footing around.
“We have great businesses in Britain, give them a chance to make Britain great.”
Dr Stephen Bence, founder of BusinessFunding.co.uk, welcomed Longworth’s intervention, saying: “The government has already made some moves towards stimulating growth, for example, the Seed Enterprise Investment Scheme which starts in April. But bank lending is below the industry’s own targets and business confidence remains low. We believe that much more needs to be done: in particular we would like to see more tax breaks for start-ups, small business and entrepreneurs and some real action on cutting red tape.”