Retail leaders have hit back after top Labour politicians accused them of having been “deceived” into supporting Conservative plans to reverse part of the Government’s proposed National Insurance rise.
Business leaders’ support for the Tory stance prompted Chancellor Alistair Darling to say that the Opposition had “peddled a deception” and Business Secretary Lord Mandelson used similar language, referring to a “cynical deception”.
But Next chief executive Simon Wolfson and Kingfisher chief executive Ian Cheshire — both among the business signatories of a letter sent to the Daily Telegraph supporting the Tories’ National Insurance position — rejected the Labour claims as “patronising”.
Wolfson, a Conservative supporter, said: “Of course we have not been deceived. The principle is a very simple one. It is a question of, do we pay for government profligacy through increased taxes or do we urge them to save money in a way that businesses have?”
Cheshire said: “It’s a little patronising to suggest that we’ve been deceived. This isn’t a political point, it’s a business issue - whichever way you look at it, it’s a tax on jobs.”
The Tories have outlined plans to halt the NI increase for those earning less than £45,000 if they win the general election by making £12bn efficiency savings in government.
Wolfson and Cheshire were among a raft of retailers who put their names to Daily Telegraph letter alongside Marks & Spencer executive chairman Sir Stuart Rose, Sainsbury’s chief executive Justin King, Carpetright chairman Lord Harris, Kurt Geiger chief executive Neil Clifford, Mothercare chief executive Ben Gordon, Peacocks chairman John Lovering, Matalan chief executive Alistair McGeorge and Harvey Nichols chief executive Joseph Wan.
In the letter the businessmen protested that the 1p in the pound rise in both staff and employers’ NI contributions set to be brought in next April under a Labour government, could lead to widespread job cuts and put the economy in peril.
They argue that cutting public waste and bureaucracy is crucial to finding money to reduce Britain’s debt.
Humiliatingly for Labour, Rose sits on the Prime Minister’s Business Council.
The Tories hope that the letter is a sign that the City now supports party leader David Cameron and shadow chancellor George Osborne’s policies.