The chairmen of Britain’s biggest retailers are becoming increasingly frustrated with the government’s handling of the economy, as they grapple with red tape, spiralling costs and an uneven playing field on tax, a new poll reveals Monday.

The annual survey, from headhunter Korn/Ferry Whitehead Mann, will say that while the heads of Britain’s biggest retailers have become less gloomy in outlook, confidence in the government has plummeted.

Among those surveyed were the chairmen of Tesco, J Sainsbury, Wm Morrison, Marks and Spencer and the John Lewis Partnership.

Half of the bosses polled said the government “could do better” compared with 17 per cent in last year’s survey. None of the chairmen thought the government was doing well, compared with 21 per cent last time.

Similarly, none thought the government had been effective in supporting store groups. Instead, almost half thought the government was ineffective.

The chairmen called on the government to remove regulation and barriers to rich individuals from outside the European Union spending their money in the UK. “Get out of the way. Leave me alone. Perhaps more of you should go on I’m a Celebrity,” said the chairman of one retailer, referring to MP Nadine Dorries’ appearance on the programme last year.

The retail chairmen called for a change in the tone of political messages to encourage greater consumer confidence, and inspire investment in infrastructure. “Improve the mood of the nation. They need to change the ‘gloomy message’ record,” said one.

Well known high street names are already putting pressure on the government to address tax avoidance by some multinationals, or at the very least reduce the tax burden on retail chains, following a string of high street failures.

Korn/Ferry’s poll of 34 retail chairmen was carried out last autumn. Since then Jessops, HMV, Blockbuster and Republic have all collapsed into administration, with the loss of more than 10,000 jobs.

“Retail is an economic national treasure – don’t put it at risk by looking the other way while its world is changing,” said one chairman. However, Sally Elliott, head of UK retail at Korn/Ferry said the chairmen acknowledged that the government had a difficult balancing act to perform between reducing the deficit and stimulating growth.

Some 44 per cent of retail chairmen said they were pessimistic about the state of the economy over the next 12 months, down from 67 per cent in last year’s survey. Some 15 per cent said they were optimistic, compared to none last time.

Retail chairmen also believe the government has missed an opportunity to help the high street with Mary Portas’s review of town centres, and the limited pilot projects it spawned.

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