The Confederation of British Industry has been locked out of regular meetings with other leading business lobby groups, hampering its fight for survival after a sexual misconduct scandal.
Formerly Britain’s leading voice for business, the CBI has been battling to overhaul its culture and regain trust after multiple allegations of misconduct were made by female employees, including two who said they were raped. Those allegations resulted in an exodus of members from John Lewis to Aviva and led Labour and the Conservatives to cut ties with the organisation.
The CBI’s efforts to regain a place at the intersection of business and government are understood to have been complicated by the refusal of fellow business interest groups to engage with it or allow it along to their meetings with ministers.
The other four members of the “B5” lobbying groups – the Federation of Small Business (FSB), British Chambers of Commerce (BCC), Institute of Directors (IoD) and Make UK – have refused to hold meetings with the CBI, sources confirmed after a report in the Financial Times.
The CBI is understood to have asked to be readmitted, only for the other B5 members to refuse, saying it was too soon.
Craig Beaumont, the chief of external affairs at the FSB, told the FT: “Decisions for departmental-led meetings are of course for the relevant [government] department. FSB, however, will not hold lobbying-advocacy meetings alongside CBI until we are confident that the scandal is over, the victims have been heard, and we are reassured about current police investigations.”
A source at another lobby group questioned the degree of backing the CBI has from British businesses after a recent vote of confidence by members. The source said it was “slightly odd” that votes were only cast by those that had not paused their membership, adding: “[On that basis] of course the vote would result in total support for the CBI.”
It has been previously estimated that 50 businesses have paused or cancelled their membership.
The CBI said after the vote that it won with 93% backing from its members. It later emerged that turnout was low, with less than a third of the remaining members backing it at the vote, according to testimony given to MPs last week.
A second source at another lobby group said it had been “good to see progress” at the CBI, which launched an external investigation by the law firm Fox Williams and initiated a cultural overhaul after a review by a consultancy, Principia.
However, the source said it was “too soon to re-engage” while City of London police continue to investigate the allegations, adding that they also wanted to “see evidence that changes have embedded”.
They said fellow lobby groups also did not want to meet with the CBI while the government continued to boycott the organisation, in case there was a perception that the remaining members of the B5 were being used as a “back door” for CBI advocacy.
On Sunday, Labour confirmed that the shadow business secretary, Jonathan Reynolds, met the new CBI director general, Rain Newton-Smith, last week. Newton-Smith replaced Tony Danker after his dismissal in April following separate allegations about his own conduct.
Danker has said he felt he had been made the “fall guy” for the wider crisis faced by the organisation. He has also said he was “truly sorry” for making some colleagues “feel uncomfortable”.
The CBI’s future is still uncertain, particularly in the light of a move by the BCC to set up a new “business council”.
Boycotts of the CBI by the government and Labour also remain in place, despite the latter’s apparent relaxation of its position.
The CBI told the FT that it was “pressing ahead with an ambitious programme of change to continue to build the trust of members and stakeholders and renew its mandate for an ever-changing economy”.
It said the CBI was still “a vital voice in championing business and delivering sustainable growth”. A source close to the organisation told the FT that the CBI engageed with politicians not only through joint meetings with other lobby groups but through other channels as well.