The director-general of the British Chambers of Commerce has told the government to “get off our back” and called for a moratorium on new employment legislation.

Speaking at the British Chambers of Commerce (BCC) convention in Birmingham, David Frost highlighted the findings of the BCC’s latest Workforce Survey, which reported 47 per cent of businesses with less than five employees found it difficult to navigate their way around employment law.

“Yet still more and more legislation comes down the pipeline,” he said.

“If we are really serious about helping businesses, about creating jobs we should have a complete moratorium on new employment legislation for the next three years.”

He told delegates: “You will get on the job of creating wealth and creating jobs. I know the message from business is not more handouts – but ‘get off our back’.

“We are entrepreneurs, we can flourish, we will compete in this brave new world. We will survive, but you, as government, give us the freedom to do so.”

He said although some people in government like Lord Mandelson and Baroness Shriti Vadera “get it,” he hit out against other initiatives, such as the Equalities Bill being championed by Harriet Harman, which contains a clause which makes every company with over 250 employees report on average pay for men and women.

“Now is this the time to introduce this – legislation that will divert the attention of managers from their focus on survival and growth and will it act as an incentive for overseas companies to locate here, bringing much-need jobs?” he said. “I know the answer and so do you.”

Mr Frost called for a much stronger focus on manufacturing, a sector which he said had been “savaged”.

“What is happening is the same as in previous downturns,” he said. “It is manufacturing that is being hit hardest and it is those regions away from London, the areas that manufacturing is rooted in, that are really suffering.”

He called for an economy built on much firmer foundations and not one of a “get-rich-quick mentality”.

“I cannot be alone in dreading a return to the days when every time you picked up a newspaper or turned on the TV the dominant theme was how much house prices had risen.”

Mr Frost wants a more balanced economy with much less focus on financial services as the sole generator of wealth, a sector he said politicians had been “starstruck and mesmerised by.”

He also called for a reform of the education system to channel the brightest children towards sciences. Universities should have more of a focus on science and engineering, he said. He added overseas trade was also a key area.

“This is not an easy time to do this when world trade is at rock bottom but the resources have to be put in now,” he said. “Our competitors are ramping up the support they are giving to their exporters. We will have to do the same.”

He welcomed the extra funds for UK Trade and Investment announced in the Budget last week. But he questioned the 50 per cent higher tax rate.