Lord Jones
IBTimes UK spoke to the former director-general of the CBI ahead of the general election (Reuters)

Digby Jones, or Baron Jones of Birmingham, doesn't hold a party card. Instead, the former director-general of the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) is an outspoken champion of enterprise.

He served under Gordon Brown as a trade minister, but refused to join Labour and is suspicious of the party's current leader.

Similarly, he's all for Britain's membership of the European Union (EU), but the 59-year-old's critical of the current set up.

With less than 90 day to go before the general election, IBTimes UK quizzed Jones about business and politics, vocational education, the EU and Ed Miliband.

Does Britain need a pay rise?

IBTimes UK: David Cameron recently urged employers, speaking at the British Chambers of Commerce (BCC) annual conference, to increase the pay packets of their staff.

The prime minister claimed plummeting oil prices were boosting profits and argued that the extra cash should be passed onto workers. Do you support Cameron's plea?

Jones: It was a typical pre-general election, political thing to say. It all depends where and what.

If you're working for an employee in some company where the cost of oil is a big part of the overhead and therefore your profits have increased through no actions of your own, I think the prime minister is right.

If, on the other hand, you're in a business which has nothing to do with the price of oil and profits are not affected by the dramatic decrease in the price of oil, then no. The market is the market and that is that.

I don't blame the prime minister for saying it. I think it's exactly what a party political leader will say before a general election, but it's not a generalised thing that should be applied to business.

Too much university?

IBTimes UK: When Brown came into office in 2007, he said he wanted 50% of young people to go to university by 2010.

But now Labour have put more emphasis on vocational education and pushing for an "education system to rival Germany's". Was the last Labour government wrong to pursue the 50% target?

Jones: I wished they never said 50% should go to university because I've no idea whether it should be 50%, it might be 40%, it might by 70% – I don't know and neither do they.

What it meant was that you were dividing society, which is funny for a Labour government, but it's what they did.

If you weren't in the 50% that went to university, for some reason you were second-class. That was awful, dreadful and of course they suddenly did put a lot of effort, time and money into apprenticeships. The Conservative-Liberal coalition government have continued that.

This is where joined-up successive governments have worked, so much so that we now get as many kids starting apprenticeships at 16 as going to university at 18.

The balance is coming back, which is a good thing.

Does business and politics mix?

IBTimes UK: As someone who has worked in the private sector and government, what do you make of Westminster's business credentials?

Jones: Generally, the political class today have never done anything else in their lives – they've never worked in a hospital or a school, or in the army or the police.

They've never taken a risk in business and they don't understand wealth creation, they've never sacked anybody, they've never hired anybody, they've never been in the real world.

They sit in their bubble and they pass laws which affect us all. One on the reason why the voting class are so disaffected with the political class is because they feel that way and they know they feel that way.

At a general level, do I think politicians 'get it'? No, I don't. Some bother, some have been in businesses – mainly in the Tory Party – but I don't think that politicians actually understand it.

Does Ed 'get it'?

IBTimes UK: Ed Miliband has come under fire from some people in the business community, do you think he understands the business world?

Jones: I think that Ed Balls and Chuka Umunna do understand creating wealth.

Umunna used to work in the city, Ed Balls used to work with Gordon Brown in government, and New Labour certainly understood creating wealth.

But I believe that Miliband does not understand it, he doesn't want to understand it, I don't think he likes it particularly and he's never done any businesses aspect work.

And yet he constantly talks about building a Britain that relies on spending money. But where on earth does he think he gets the money from – it doesn't grow on trees you know.

Fan of Osborne?

IBTimes UK: But what about George Osborne? The Chancellor had a brief journalism career and then entered the world of politics. How do you think he's faired?

Jones: I wasn't that impressed with him at the start. I remember I used the expression once: he looks like he's just come back off his gap year.

Then he had the omnishambles budget of trying to remove tax relief on donations to charities and all the Cornish pasties and all the rest of stuff. I do think his first couple of years were not brilliant.

But he has learnt incredibly quickly. He does get it – he understands how you can't spend it unless you earn it.

I like to see any politician of any party that learns on the job and understands what he's doing, and then implements that into policy. Osborne's last two years have been very good actually.

In or out?

IBTimes UK: The UK's membership of the EU has become a hot topic, with Cameron's promise of a referendum in 2017 and the rise of Ukip.

In addition, the Eurozone faces disaster after the Syriza were elected in Greece on an anti-austerity ticket. What do you make of the situation?

Jones: I don't mind if we don't have a referendum, as long as we have reform.

I'm far more interested in an unemployed Greek lad and jobless Spanish lady getting into work by having a Brussels that actually passes legislation that helps small business get one extra person into work.

I don't think this should be a British issues, this should be a European issue. On that basis, if you're going to have a united Europe, then you better have a united Europe where you have fiscal transfers.

You can't have a fiscal transfer Europe without political union. So people have got to start calling this for what it is.

If Greece wants to turn around and say 'I don't want to pay my debts back', can you please explain that to a German working on the line of Volkswagen who says 'I've worked hard, I've put up with everything, I've changed everything I do, I pay my tax and what you're going to do, with that money, is to enable a Greek train driver to retire at 55.

It's got to a point where people are saying 'well, I can't afford to pay you back'. Fine, but you have had it.

Where do you think this went? Scotch mist? You've had this money and you've spent this money – why shouldn't you pay it back?

If you're going to say 'no, we can't afford to pay it back', then OK you're really saying 'I don't want to play by the rules of the club'.

Fine. We live in a free world – don't play by the rules of the club. Leave the Euro.

But if you stay in the Euro, you've got to accept another country who's going to tell you what to do.

The Eurozone is pussyfooting, gently kicking the can down the road to get to a point where it doesn't have to call it for what it is.

I want to see an EU in which Britain should be a part, where it's basically taking it back to what everybody voted for all those years ago – a free trade zone.

We are stronger together in Europe then we are outside if we actually have the enjoyment of a single market.