1 Apr 2015

Over 100 business leaders declare Tory support

Some of the UK’s top business chiefs write an open letter saying a Labour government would “threaten jobs”, as Ed Miliband commits to regular worker contracts after 12 weeks.

In an open letter the 103 business leaders said Conservative policies show the UK is “open for business”.

The bosses – who employ a total of 500,000 Britons – praised a decision by David Cameron and George Osborne to cut Corporation Tax, warning that a “change in course” would “put the recovery at risk”.

Five of the business leaders had previously supported the Labour party but have switched loyalty to the Tories, according to the Daily Telegraph which published the open letter.

The letter was released as it emerged Labour leader Mr Miliband will promise legislation in a Labour government’s first Queen’s Speech guaranteeing employees the right to a regular contract after 12 weeks of working regular hours in practice with an employer.

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The plans back up a commitment made by Mr Miliband during the leaders’ interview to improve employee rights after he and Mr Miliband had been grilled on zero-hours contracts.

The pledge would significantly strengthen Labour’s previous policy entitling workers to a regular contract after 12 months.

The business leaders called the Corporation tax cut a “key part” of the government’s economic plan, but just hours earlier shadow chancellor Ed Balls announced that a Labour government would reverse the final reduction – due to take effect later this month – so it could hand a cut in business rates to small firms.

“It has been a key part of their (the Government’s) economic plan,” the executives said in their letter.

‘Recovery at risk’

“The result is that Britain grew faster than any other major economy last year and businesses like ours have created over 1.85 million new jobs.

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“We believe a change in course will threaten jobs and deter investment. This would send a negative message about Britain and put the recovery at risk.”

Signatories to the letter include BP chief executive Bob Dudley, Prudential chief executive Tidjane Thiam, Sir Charles Dunstone, the chairman of Dixons Carphone and Talk Talk plc, and Duncan Bannatyne, a former star of Dragons’ Den.

Mr Miliband seized on the issue of zero hours contracts after Mr Cameron admitted during his televised grilling last week by Jeremy Paxman that he could not live on one.

Mr Miliband set out his proposals at a campaign event in Yorkshire, saying that the proliferation of zero hours contracts has come to symbolise the failure of the Conservative-led coalition’s economic policies.

“What’s really worrying is that David Cameron isn’t worried,” he said.

“Why should he? It’s his plan for the economy. Do you remember what he told Jeremy Paxman last week when he was asked why are more and more people trapped on zero hours contracts?

‘Not good enough’

“He didn’t say it was because low paid, low skilled work is booming on his watch. No, he said it was because people really want to be on them.

“Then he admitted he couldn’t live on one himself. Well, I say, if it’s not good enough for him, it’s not good enough for you. And it’s not good enough for Britain either.

“These zero hours contracts have become a symbol of the Tories’ failing economy with stagnant wages and falling productivity leaving a recovery which isn’t reaching your front door and a deficit still at Downing Street’s door.

“We will give working people more control of their working lives, we’re going to put an end to exploitative zero hours contracts.”

Labour officials said there would be exemptions for employees such as so-called bank nurses who specifically request a zero hours contract so they can work at another hospital as well as their usual job – but more than 90 per cent of the 1.8 million existing zero hours contracts would be banned.

CBI director-general John Cridland strongly criticised the plans, warning it could prove counter productive creating more instability for workers.

“Of course action should be taken to tackle abuses, but demonising flexible contracts is playing with the jobs that many firms and many workers value and need,” he said.

The Conservatives said that just one in 50 jobs were zero hours contracts and that the Government had already acted to tackle abuses.

Labour’s shadow business secretary Chuka Umunna dismissed the letter from the executives as “nothing new”.

“No one will be surprised that some business people are calling for low taxes for big businesses,” he said.

“That’s nothing new and under Labour Britain will have the most competitive corporation tax rate in the G7.”