Retail chairmen overwhelmingly back the Coalition Government and have expressed fears of a swing to the left at the general election.
A survey of 35 retail chairmen by executive recruitment firm Korn Ferry revealed 84% of them believe the Coalition Government is doing well or reasonably well, the highest figure since the survey began five years ago and up from 32% just two years ago.
Morrisons chairman Andy Higginson was concerned a more left-wing government pumping more money into public services would be damaging.
He added: “History will show the Lib Dems to have been a good moderator on the Tories.”
One chairman speaking under the condition of anonymity said: “A Labour/SNP coalition could spook the financial markets.
“The current government is trying to address our economic difficulties, and its intentions are robust, but the situation is still very precarious.”
After Labour has been accused of an anti-business agenda, Marks & Spencer chairman Robert Swannell argued against assuming “business is bad”.
He added: “Don’t put the tentative recovery at risk. Don’t put the rating for UK bonds at risk.”
Swannell’s sentiments were backed up by Asos chairman Brian McBride, who said: “Don’t mess with the economy. If it’s not broke don’t fix it - steady as we go.”
Korn Ferry head of retail Sally Elliott believes retail bosses have been won over by the Coalition Government because of the stability it has brought to the economy.
She said: “The chairmen just want the economy to be really well managed because consumers are happy and spending and a strong economy means we have good conditions to do business.
“They don’t like the uncertainty of the election, the EU referendum and anything that might dampen consumer confidence.”
Although Elliott said bosses would prefer a majority government owing to the added certainty it would bring, she says the majority of chairmen are not fazed by the prospect of another coalition.
The survey found that 11% thought the impact of another coalition on the retail sector would be positive, 14% expected a negative impact, but a majority of 75% thought there would be no effect.
Retail veteran and former Debenhams boss Rob Templeman said: “The Conservative-led Government has done a good job in managing our economy.
“They have been realistic and pragmatic about the issues and have taken a lot of the right actions to deal with those issues. Economic stability is absolutely key for a sustainable recovery.”
Retail bosses also came out strongly against pulling out of the EU.
Not a single chairman felt that leaving the EU would enhance the prospects for their business.
Some 39% of chairmen believe their businesses’ prospects would be diminished if Britain left the EU and 61% believe an exit from the EU would not affect their business one way or the other.
John Lewis Partnership chairman Sir Charlie Mayfield said: “If we do have a referendum, it’s important it is well informed. There are lots of strongly held views for and against, but there are many questions that haven’t yet been asked, let alone answered.
“For example, if the UK were to leave the EU, would the government of the day repeal the Social Chapter? Would they abandon the working time directive?”
Other issues covered by the survey included a discussion around the ‘living wage’.
Higginson argued: “I am concerned about the ‘living wage’ debate. We already have a minimum wage. If that’s not enough, then take action, but don’t create a PR story called the ‘living wage’. It just creates extra complication, more confusion.”
The survey covered nine of the 10 businesses in the UK retail industry with only Tesco not included and the businesses’ combined annual turnover is more than £106bn.