George Osborne tells business leaders to 'speak out against the anti-enterprise views of charities'

The Chancellor of the Exchequer faces criticism after telling delegates at the Institute of Directors' annual convention that the 'business argument' will be countered by pressure groups, trade unions and charities

George Osborne at the Institute of Directors' annual convention
George Osborne at the Institute of Directors' annual convention

George Osborne, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, is facing criticism after telling a gathering of business leaders to speak out against the "anti-enterprise views" of charities and other groups.

Several national newspapers have reported the Chancellor’s comments at the Institute of Directors’ annual convention in London on Friday.

Osborne said: "You have to get out there and put the business argument, because there are plenty of pressure groups, plenty of trade unions and plenty of charities and the like, that will put the counter view."

The Guardian noted that Osborne did not refer to any charities individually.

Osborne said: "It is, I know, a difficult decision sometimes to put your head above the parapet, but that is the only way we are going to win this argument for an enterprising, business, low-tax economy that delivers prosperity for the people and generations to come. There is a big argument in our country about our future, about whether we are a country that is for business, for enterprise, for the free market."

Sir Stuart Etherington, chief executive of the National Council for Voluntary Organisations, said: "The days when charities and businesses were enemies are long gone. Charities will always speak up for the people and causes they work for, but many are also working with businesses to find solutions to society's problems together.

"There will always be times when there are disagreements, but most business people understand and respect this. We should be celebrating, not denigrating, the relationship between business and charities."

Lisa Nandy, the shadow minister for civil society, said Osborne’s comments showed the coalition government "seems to fundamentally misunderstand what the voluntary sector does in Britain".

She said: "Charities, social enterprises and trade unions have always worked in partnership with British business. The Chancellor is trying to create a false divide, ignoring every company that sets up a charitable arm or donates to their local community, every charity that also runs a business or supports entrepreneurs. One thing is clear: the big society agenda now lies in tatters.

"We have to view this as part of a bigger picture, a long campaign of words and actions that are hostile to civil society, from the lobbying act to the clampdown on the right to use judicial review. We cannot trust this government to support the voluntary sector."

Sir Stephen Bubb, chief executive of the charity leaders group Acevo, said the Chancellor had "clearly misspoken" and that alienating Britain's charities was not his intention.

"He is part of a government whose plan for public services in this country involves well-run, professional charities working with government and business to deliver for the UK," said Bubb.

Richard Murphy, a qualified accountant working for the anti-tax avoidance campaign group Tax Research LLP, wrote in a blog: "Charities aren’t opposed to business: it’s exploitation and abuse we can’t stand." He also wrote that the anti-tax-avoidance work of charities and trade unions "has been the single most pro-business campaign run by anyone in this country in recent years".

A spokesman for the business group the Forum of Private Business said: "It is vital that the economy works for enterprise that will help increase employment and taxes, decrease welfare costs and help to fund the kind of public services that charities call for. So it is in the interests of both charities and businesses that economic prosperity comes first."

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