Future of CBI hangs in the balance

The Confederation of British Industry (CBI) is battling for survival as members prepare to vote whether to keep the scandal-ridden industrial body, or disband. 

According to the BBC, a letter signed by 13 members, including Siemens, Microsoft and Esso, has given the CBI a “mandate to continue”. 

The result of a vote which will determine the CBI’s fate will be revealed at some point after the extraordinary general meeting (EGM), scheduled to take place tomorrow. 

The institute became embroiled in a sexual misconduct scandal after more than a dozen women – both current and former employees at the CBI – came forward with claims of inappropriate behaviour and two cases of alleged rape.

Sources claimed there was a toxic environment at the CBI which allowed such misconduct to take place, without fear of consequences. 

Tony Danker, director-general of the CBI, stood down from his post in May after accusations he behaved inappropriately towards a female member of staff. He has not been linked to the rape allegations.

Tesco chairman quits after claims of inappropriate behaviour

Tesco chairman John Allan stood down from his post last month after four different women claimed he behaved inappropriately towards them at CBI events. 

A report published by the Guardian said: “Allan allegedly touched the bottom of a senior member of Tesco staff in June 2022, at the company’s annual general meeting (AGM). It is also claimed that he touched the bottom of a member of staff at [the CBI], at its annual dinner in May 2019, when he was the organisation’s president.” 

The report goes on to say that sources allege Allan also made inappropriate remarks to two other female CBI staff members at the events mentioned above. 

In a statement, Allan said: “It is with regret that I am having to prematurely stand down from my position as chair of Tesco following the anonymous and unsubstantiated allegations made against me.”

Alcohol-only events banned

Dame Carolyn Fairbairn, who was director general of the CBI between 2015 and 2020, said that after the summer party in 2019 – which is when one of the alleged rapes is claimed to have taken place – the institute banned alcohol-only parties due to drunken behaviour. 

Speaking about the summer party to the Sunday Times, Fairbairn said: “There was no sit-down meal. With hindsight, I think that was a real mistake…We immediately decided not to allow this kind of format again.” 

Fairbairn says she was not told about the rape, but made the decision to ban drinks-only events because of reports of poor behaviour from staff due to heavy drinking. 

She told the newspaper she didn’t agree with suggestions there was a toxic culture at the CBI. “This is about men behaving badly towards women,” she said. “I do not accept this connection between the culture of the organisation that I created and the actions of an individual who committed [an alleged] crime.”

Job cuts

After several key members made a mass exodus from the lobbying group last month, the CBI has been forced to make cost savings, and confirmed in a statement it will need to cut jobs. 

“In light of the recent loss of some of our revenue, the CBI has to take some difficult decisions,” it said. “We need to reduce our salary cost base by a third among other likely cost-saving measures going forward. With our prospectus for a renewed CBI now published, we will work with our staff and members on our core mission to help UK business succeed. We believe there is a strong basis for our members to continue to back us at our EGM.”

A CBI replacement? 

A lobbyist group designed to rival – or perhaps even replace – the CBI has already been formed. Known as the Business Council, the group has been launched by the British Chambers of Commerce, and already has the support of several firms, including Heathrow, Drax, IHG Hotels & Resorts and BP.

BCC Director General Shevaun Haviland and BCC President Baroness Martha Lane Fox will join a wider group of business leaders at a roundtable meeting in central London this afternoon to discuss the Council and the BCC’s new national offer.

“Over the past few months, working closely with the Chamber Network, we have been talking to the nation’s largest corporates and it has become clear to us that they are looking for a different kind of representation,” said Haviland. “These businesses want to be part of a framework that’s rooted in their local communities, but with the ability to shape the national and international debate.”