The recent spate of takeover bids for UK companies is a sign of strength in our economy, the government said on Monday. Alan Johnson, trade and industry secretary, told a London conference that overseas takeovers were a ?vote of confidence in our businesses? and not an attack on UK plc.
The ministerial defence of the need for overseas investment comes amid angst in some sections of the media about the ?blitz from foreign predators? that saw on one day alone ? October 31 ? takeover approaches for four companies with a combined market capitalisation of more than ?20bn.
Mr Johnson rejected suggestions the flurry of bids for companies listed in the City showed business was suffering ?the ?Wimbledon effect? ? Britain hosts the best competition in the world but cannot win it.
?It is rubbish to say we can?t win. Look at world-beating companies like Vodafone, BP, HSBC, Smith and Nephew and Rolls-Royce,? Mr Johnson told delegates at the corporate governance event. ?The best companies in Britain are the best companies in the world.?
The trade and industry secretary admitted however, at an event later on Monday, that Britain lags some other countries, notably the US, in encouraging entrepreneurs. Britain ?must aim to reach those heights? scaled by the US on business creation, which is twice as good as the UK and 10 times as good in deprived areas, Mr Johnson said.
The UK needs a ?shift in culture? to make entrepreneurship an attractive and realistic goal for young people, the minister told delegates at the Enterprising Britain Summit in London. ?We need to back our entrepreneurs, not hamper them. We need to praise them, not knock them,? he said in a speech marking the start of the government-backed Enterprise Week.
Asked at a press conference if he ever regretted not starting a business, Mr Johnson said his working-class roots had precluded this as an option.
?I don?t think kids from my background when I grew up even thought about whether we would start a business?.?.?.?I suspect that?s still the case that people from some backgrounds in some areas still think [entrepreneurship] is not for them,? he said.
Pressed on what idea he would have pursued had he been given the opportunity, Mr Johnson said he had noticed the absence of pie and mash shops in Slough, Berkshire as a young man and ?thought an entrepreneur should start one?.
Business representatives at the enterprise conference called on the government to back its rhetorical support for enterprise with policies to help small companies.
David Frost, director-general of the British Chambers of Commerce, told delegates the government should ?create the conditions for growth then get out of the way?.
Despite efforts to simplify business support schemes, there were ?still 101 different organisations out there?, Mr Frost said, while the amount of red tape being imposed by Whitehall ?can be suffocating?.