MAGGIE PAGANO: Are they curtains for the CBI?

Is it curtains for CBI? If the lobby group were to shut up shop, there are far better alternatives for companies to join, says MAGGIE PAGANO

  • Why haven’t more members of the Confederation of British Industry left?
  • Some say they want to await the outcome of an independent investigation
  • Baroness Morrissey says ‘enough is enough’ and urges members to stop now

One of the mysteries of the sex scandal swirling around the Confederation of British Industry is why more of its members haven’t taken a harder line and resigned.

So far, only Andy Wood, the boss of Suffolk brewery Adnams, has said publicly that his firm is considering leaving the lobby group after allegations of sexual misconduct were leveled at senior CBI officials, including allegations of rape and drug use at staff parties.

But privately, many more of the 190,000 members are said to be appalled by the recent allegations by more than ten women against CBI employees and are about to hand in their ID cards.

Why are they taking so long to decide? Some say they want to await the outcome of the independent investigation being conducted by Fox Williams before making hasty decisions.

The firm hopes to be able to report to the board soon after Easter. But should they wait or listen to one of the city’s most influential women, Baroness Morrissey, who says “enough is enough”. She urges members to stop now.

Take a step: Baroness Morrissey says'enough is enough' and urges members to stop now

Take a step: Baroness Morrissey says ‘enough is enough’ and urges members to stop now

Imagine if high-profile members like Alison Rose, CEO of NatWest, or Amanda Blanc, CEO of Aviva, shared their view and ripped up their membership. The dam would break and others would follow soon enough. They would rightly argue that whatever the outcome of the report, the CBI’s reputational damage is already such that it cannot survive.

Another mystery is why a lobby group claiming to be the voice of British business has been so completely silent since the scandal broke. There was no view from above, not even a closing statement from President Brian McBride or Vice-President Lord Bilimoria.

Of course, no one expects them to comment on the allegations in detail because of the investigation. But you would have thought that at least one of the top men would be brave enough to apologize and say publicly, “We’re going to get to the bottom of this.”

They were brave enough to shout from the rooftops as they warned that Brexit would kill British industry or that Jeremy Corbyn’s nationalization plans would cost nearly £200bn – claims that have never been proven. Criticism of the CBI is not new. For years there has been widespread skepticism about the lobby group’s relevance, saying it has outgrown its purpose.

In fact, members constantly complain that it’s become a pompous and secretive organization, that membership is one of those rituals, a bit like entering that expensive gym that just opened around the corner, because you know that you should but never use it.

There is a good explanation for this. The CBI has lost its relevance today because the reason it came about in 1965 is long gone. Back then, their power came about because companies needed a counterweight to the power of the big private sector unions, which were flexing their muscles over wage negotiations and conditions.

But these influential private sector unions all but disappeared when power passed to the public sector.

Now the CBI spends much of its time signaling virtue and agitating for various bodies and others. Is it worth paying thousands of pounds a year for membership?

Like these unions, the CBI’s time is up. And if the CBI should go out of business, there are far better alternatives for companies to join. The IoD, the FSB, Made UK or lone fighters like FairFuel UK all increasingly have a much stronger voice on the issues that really matter.

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