The Confederation of British Industry survived a confidence vote on its future yesterday, after members voted in favour of the scandal-hit lobbying organisation’s transformation plan.
However, overnight the Prime Minister Rishi Sunak suggested that may not be enough for the body to be invited back into key meetings on business policy with the government.
Matters at the CBI are for the CBI and for its members to work through,” he told reporters.
“We work and engage with lots of different business groups and businesses individually, but the CBI have their issues that they need to work through which we should just let them do.”
The vote, of 93 per cent in favour to seven per cent against, from the group’s membership, comes as a major boost to the 60-year-old British business advocacy group, which has battled weeks of scandal leaving its reputation bruised.
Members were asked whether “the changes we have made − and the commitments we have set out − to reform our governance, culture, and purpose give you the confidence you need to support the CBI? ”
A total of 371 members voted with 23 abstentions or withheld ballots. Those members who had already terminated their membership, such as Aviva, were not entitled to a vote.
The question remains whether the CBI – which has been frozen out by government in recent months – will be invited back into the corridors of power.
Making the case
Speaking at an extraordinary general meeting at the Confederation of British Industry (CBI)’s headquarters in Cannon Place, north London, this afternoon the top team left their fate in associates’ hands.
President Brian McBride, director-general Rain Newton-Smith and newly appointed chief people officer Elizabeth Wallace implored members to renew their faith in the embattled organisation.
McBride, who said he was beginning the search for his successor immediately, outlined a series of inquiries and reviews, including by lawyers Fox Williams and ethics consultancy Principia.
He told members: “We’re here today to make the case for why this organisation, which has served you and been at the centre of UK politics for nearly 60 years, should continue to exist.
“I hope by now you are reassured that we are not the same organisation we were 12 weeks ago. And I hope that we can merit your trust, your confidence and your vote.”
Newton-Smith, who rejoined the CBI from a post at Barclays, said: “This is the culmination of an incredibly tough three months for the CBI, for our people, for you, our members and for me personally.
“But I’m confident and determined this will be a turning point for us. The start of a new chapter, for a renewed CBI.
“It’s so important to me, and it’s important for those who raised their voices. To put our people, our culture and our values front and centre.”
Allegations of a toxic culture, sexual harassment and rape left the CBI with its reputation close to tatters.
Former director-general Tony Danker was dismissed over separate misconduct claims – unrelated to sex abuse – and is reportedly preparing to sue his ex-employer, according to the Sunday Times.
Government and Labour paused engagement with the group while a wave of big name members quit their involvement, leaving the business community uncertain for the future.
Bids to launch rival organisations to succeed the CBI as the top business lobby were launched by the British Chambers of Commerce (BCC) and WPI Strategy, dubbed BizUK.
But with a series of big names stepping back earlier in the process – and a wave of support generated in recent days by Microsoft and Siemens – many saw the result as broadly anticipated to pass.
Ann Francke, chief executive of the Chartered Management Institute, said: “While the CBI has won some much-needed breathing space, the difficult challenge of cultural transformation still lies ahead.
“Both businesses and government will now want to see clear evidence that the CBI is delivering on its promise to change.
“Leaders at all organisations should view this sorry episode at one of the country’s most high-profile bodies as a chance to learn from the mistakes of others.”
While one senior Tory source told CityA.M. they were yet to be convinced.
“Not to rain on their parade, but I’m not convinced that a secret ballot of 0.2 per cent of the businesses the CBI claims to represent is going to mean the government or political parties opening their arms and saying all is forgiven,” they said.
Commenting on the result, Newton-Smith said she was “deeply grateful” for the faith shown by members.
“We’ve made real progress in implementing the top-to-bottom programme of change promised by the board and, while there remains work to do, today’s result represents an important milestone,” she said
“We will work tirelessly to repay the faith shown in us and are committed to living the values and changes we have proposed. ”
But she added: “We also heard another important message… that [members] want us to bring our breadth and depth of expertise… our unique convening power, to bear on the economic challenges of the day.”
A government spokesperson said: “While this is a matter for the CBI and their internal processes, we will continue to engage with businesses on a case-by-case basis and business groups where appropriate.
“The CBI is responsible for rebuilding the trust and confidence of their membership and that remains a matter for them.”