The CBI has urged the Chancellor Gordon Brown not to raise taxes on business in next month's budget.
The employers' organisation said any tax increases risked more cuts in investment by companies which would damage the UK economy.
It said investment by firms has dropped by 15% over the past couple of years, mainly due to higher taxes and more red tape.
The CBI also called for £1bn of measures to help business deal with urgent problems with pensions and employer insurance.
Reputation at risk
"All our survey data shows that investment intentions in businesses of all sorts are very, very weak - the weakest they've been for years," CBI director-general Digby Jones told BBC Radio 4's Today programme.
"We are at five to midnight in this country at retaining our reputation for having the most competitive economy in Europe.
"Neither the Chancellor or I are talking recession in any way but what we've got to do it keep it that way.
"The Budget gives Gordon Brown a chance to put a bit of wind under business' wings when it needs it."
The CBI has asked for the Chancellor to return to business the £200m-£300m sum raised by insurance premium tax.
It also asked for more incentives to encourage more private pension provision, and an extension of the R&D tax credit.
Mr Jones denied that the CBI was being greedy by calling on the Chancellor not to raise spending but also asking for £1bn more for business.
He said business in the UK has seen taxes raised by £47bn over the past seven years.
"Business is being made to operate in a less competitive environment and if we don't get it right then those tax receipts that he's hoping to take in over the next year just won't be there.
"That means he won't be able to spend more on hospitals and schools going forward.
"So we're not sitting here saying 'help business', we're actually saying 'will you help the country?'"