Rishi Sunak has refused to say whether the Government would re-establish contact with the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) after the scandal-hit trade body’s members backed its reform plans.
The CBI said 93% of the 371 votes cast during a confidence motion had backed a plan intended to help it regain its position as a lobbying powerhouse.
The confederation – which claims to represent about 190,000 businesses – was cast into turmoil in March after allegations of misconduct relating to its then-director general.
Since then, more than a dozen women have come forward with allegations that they were sexually harassed while working for the CBI. Two of them said they were raped.
After dozens of its most high-profile members left the CBI and the Government and Labour broke off contact, it promised to regroup, set out a new plan and allow the remaining members to vote on it.
On Tuesday, members were asked to say whether the group’s plan for renewal was enough to give them “the confidence you need to support the CBI”.
It said that 371 members had voted and 23 had either abstained or withheld their votes.
Most of the 190,000 businesses that the CBI claims to represent are indirectly linked to it through other trade groups.
A raft of major companies have already quit the CBI due to the allegations – including John Lewis, Aviva and ITV – and did not take part in the vote.
The Prime Minister told reporters travelling with him on a trip to Washington DC: “Matters at the CBI are for the CBI and for its members to work through.”
In response to the suggestion the CBI thought it had turned a page, the Prime Minister said: “I haven’t seen those details. So, I’m sorry, I can’t comment on that.
“As I said, 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.”
CBI director-general Rain Newton-Smith said: “After an incredibly tough period, I’m deeply grateful for the faith shown in us by our members.
The results are in. Members have provided a strong mandate to the CBI with a resounding 93% vote in favour and 7% against. We thank all those who participated and will remain steadfast in our commitment to be the voice of UK business for all.https://t.co/gC22Yq80ZP pic.twitter.com/G24aTZ37pJ
— CBI (@CBItweets) June 6, 2023
“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 on that journey.
“Even an organisation as established as the CBI is only as strong as its members.
“That support is something we have never taken for granted. We will work tirelessly to repay the faith shown in us and are committed to living the values and changes we have proposed.
“Let me be clear: we have listened, we have acted, and we will leave no stone unturned to be the best voice for business, inside and out.”
The CBI went into Tuesday’s vote having gained public backing from around a dozen companies, including Siemens, Microsoft and Esso, which sent a joint letter to the Times on Monday.
There was still uncertainty over how the vote might play out, with CBI president Brian McBride writing that the “outcome of Tuesday’s vote isn’t a given”.
In his speech during the meeting, Mr McBride said several members had reached out to offer help.
They had told him about “the journey your own organisations had been on”, he said.
The president also said the CBI will have a “huge task” ahead to transform its culture.
“That takes months and years, not days and weeks. So, let me be crystal clear – we are committed for the long haul,” Mr McBride added.
Shevaun Haviland, boss of rival trade body the British Chambers of Commerce, said: “We are pleased to see the news that the CBI was successful in passing the vote to ensure its future at its extraordinary general meeting (EGM) this afternoon.
“Given the challenges facing the UK economy, it is vital for the business community to have a diverse range of voices representing their concerns and priorities into Government.”
A spokesperson for nine major UK trade associations said: “Our associations benefit from an overarching business organisation representing our collective views, so we welcome today’s members’ vote in favour of the CBI’s programme for change.
“We welcome, too, the CBI’s recognition that it must change, following serious allegations about its culture and the behaviour of some staff, which prompted police investigations. We believe that the prospectus they put to the EGM sets out a credible way forward which we are prepared to support.
“However, that journey of change has only just begun and we will hold the CBI and its board to account and tighter scrutiny, to ensure that all members – including the many sector trade associations in membership – can be confident that the CBI’s culture, role and purpose are refreshed and responsive to our needs.”
The spokesperson was speaking on behalf of the Food and Drink Federation, the British Retail Consortium, Build UK, Energy UK, the National Farmers Union, the Recruitment and Employment Confederation, the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders, TechUK and UK Hospitality.