Ed Miliband
The exchange comes after Miliband attacked a boss of Boots Stefano PessinaReuters

British business chiefs have hit back at Ed Miliband after the Labour leader criticised the Boots boos who said it would be a "catastrophe" if he became prime minister.

Miliband called on Stefano Pessina, the head of Boots' parent company Walgreen Boots Alliance, to start "paying his taxes".

The Labour leader also alleged that the chief executive was in an "unholy alliance" with the Tories.

"Now, I've just got to say to you, I don't think people in Britain are going to take kindly to being lectured by somebody who's avoiding his taxes on how they should be voting at the UK general election," Miliband said.

He added: "You've now got this unholy alliance between the Conservative Party and people like him who are actually saying that the country can't change. I think we can change the country.

"I think part of my job is to say: 'We're going to stand up to these powerful forces who aren't paying their taxes, who are avoiding their taxes.' Because frankly, they have a responsibility."

But the comments drew the attention of Lord Rose, a former boss of Marks and Spencer and former member of Gordon Brown's business council.

Rose claimed Miliband had "blown apart" decades of political consensus that the business sector should be seen as an engine of growth.

"As a man responsible for 70,000 workers - that's 70,000 livelihoods supporting 70,000 families – Pessina was perfectly entitled to speak out," he wrote in the Daily Mail.

"What happens in Westminster has a direct impact on his employees and his customers."

Elsewhere, Sir Ian Cheshire, former head of B&Q, said that Miliband's "personal attacks are pretty unattractive".

"It has got to be legitimate for business leaders who are involved in big business in the UK even if they are not UK citizens to have a view on the likely impact of elections because this is a national debate," he told the Daily Telegraph.

"He has the complete right to have his say, as have other people.

"Even if you disagree with him, I don't think it is necessary to have personal attacks on Stefano in this way – particularly for a guy who has really ploughed a lot of money into the UK and is doing now to make Boots a world force."

The exchange comes with less than 100 days to go before the general election in May.