David Cameron Set For Tense Business Leader Meeting After Ministers' Comments

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Hague and Hammond (right) have raised tensions ahead of Cameron's meeting with business leaders on Monday
Hague and Hammond (right) have raised tensions ahead of Cameron's meeting with business leaders on Monday

David Cameron is facing a difficult, tense meeting with business leaders after two of his ministers hit out at companies for their efforts in the midst of recession.

Over the weekend, Defense Secretary Philip Hammond accused businesses of "whingeing" while Foreign Secretary William Hague said they should stop complaining on get on with wealth creation.

The Government was criticised for its failure to include any measures to stimulate the stagnant economy in last week's speech, sparking Mr Hammond and Mr Hague's comments.

Mr Hague opened the assault, dismissing the complaints about the lack of a growth strategy with a blunt message that the only answer to Britain's economic woes was to "work hard".

Lord Digby Jones, the former CBI director general who was a business minister in Gordon Brown's government, said Mr Hague's comments were "a bit rich".

Ministers were urging action on firms at the same time as withdrawing support for building the "atmosphere" for selling overseas by undermining UK Trade and Investment (UKTI), he said.

"To absolutely decimate that and cut it and then stand up and say 'come on, get on and do it', that's a bit rich," the crossbench peer told BBC Radio 4's Today programme.

On Sunday night, Mr Hammond went accusing large firms of being unwilling to take risks to invest in the country's economic recovery.

Asked if he was accusing businesses of whingeing, he replied: "They are, yes, I suppose in a way whingeing about it."

Mr Hammond denied ministers were seeking a confrontation with business - traditionally seen as allies of the Conservative Party - insisting his words were no more than "gentle chiding".

"These are grown up people with pretty robust words themselves occasionally. I think that they can take it and they can dish it out," he said.

However, recent tensions set the scene for a potentially tense meeting when the Prime Minister sees members of his business advisory group today - including some of the most senior business figures in the country.