The chief executives of Diageo (Xetra: 851247 - news) and J Sainsbury, two of Britain's most successful companies, are to step down as advisers to David Cameron amid growing private sector scepticism over the Coalition's efforts to revive the economy.
I have learned that Paul Walsh and Justin King, who run the drinks company and supermarket chain respectively, will relinquish their roles on the Prime Minister's Business Advisory Group as part of a wider shake-up of its membership.
I also understand that Philip Clarke, the chief executive of Tesco (Xetra: 852647 - news) , Britain's biggest retailer, will be among the new members joining the advisory group when the revamp is announced by Downing Street in the new year.
The overhaul of Mr Cameron's advisers comes at a sensitive time for relations between the Government and the business community. Last week's Autumn Statement was welcomed by business leaders for unveiling an additional 1 per cent cut in the headline rate of corporation tax but condemned for its raid on savers' pension funds and other measures that employment groups warned would do little to stimulate the economy.
The removal of Mr King from the group will raise eyebrows given his track record as one of the country's most respected businessmen.
He has been a vocal critic of a number of Government policies, including recent proposals made by George Osborne, the Chancellor, to allow company workers to trade employment rights for share ownership. Mr King also advocated the introduction of a national insurance holiday to support job creation.
Insiders pointed out that both Diageo and Sainsbury (LSE: SBRY.L - news) 's had been ranked among Britain’s most admired companies in 2012 in a survey published last week by Management Today magazine.
"It does send a rather odd message," one insider said today.
Another observer suggested that Mr Cameron risked "scoring an own goal" over the changes if Eric Schmidt, the chairman of Google (NasdaqGS: GOOG - news) , remained as an adviser while British executives were allowed to depart.
The ongoing row over the low levels of corporation tax paid by some overseas multinationals, including Google, has left ministers open to criticism that they are doing too little to level the playing field for British companies despite reforms announced last week by Mr Osborne.
A Downing Street source insisted that the changes would be "routine" and that membership of the group was always intended to be the subject of regular reviews.
A number of other members of the advisory panel are expected to make way for new names, according to insiders.
Other existing members of the group include Angela Ahrendts, chief executive of Burberry; Sir Martin Sorrell, chief executive of WPP Group; Sir Roger Carr, chairman of Centrica (Xetra: A0DK6K - news) and president of the CBI; and Dick Olver, chairman of BAE Systems (LSE: BA.L - news) .
The advisory committee meets on a quarterly basis and continues a format employed by Gordon Brown, the former Prime Minister.
Announcing the formation of the group in October 2010, Mr Cameron said:
"The Deputy Prime Minister and I want to make sure the Government is getting really good high level advice from some of Britain's leading business men and women. Having an advisory group with a range of experience and expertise should ensure that there is real interaction and discussion.
"It is vital that we get these policies right as we take forward our plans to drive down the deficit and transform our economy. Our prize will be balanced growth, getting Britain working and ensuring our whole country shares in rising prosperity."
A spokesman for Number Ten and the companies involved all declined to comment.