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Sex scandal-hit CBI vows reform ahead of ‘survival’ vote

The Confederation of British Industry (CBI), the scandal-hit business lobby group, is to make “significant and fundamental changes” to improve the organisation ahead of a crucial membership vote next week which will decide its fate.

The moves follow the sacking of former director general Tony Danker last month after he accepted he unintentionally made some colleagues uncomfortable, following complaints from female staff members.

Mr Danker later said he felt he had been “thrown under a bus” as a result of wider problems at the CBI. Police are investigating unconnected allegations of sexual assault by other CBI staff.

Following the revelations, scores of businesses suspended or cancelled their membership. The Government has suspended high-level ties with the body, blunting a key role for the CBI, whose members want it to influence government policy.

After what it called “one of the largest listening exercises undertaken by the CBI in its history”, the group will seek a new president as part of a move to overhaul the way it is run.

Rain Newton-Smith CBI Press Image via
New CBI director general Rain Newton-Smith (Photo: Flickr)

Mr McBride, who is not the subject of misconduct allegations, is expected to hand over to his replacement in January 2024, the group said. CBI presidents typically serve for two or three years.

The CBI said it plans to “refresh” its board, with four directors leaving by September. Future board members will need to be re-elected by members every year.

It said it had appointed an external expert to review its governance structures and processes with a report expected by July.

Mr McBride said: “The need to bolster the CBI’s governance structures is something that has come through loud and clear. We are making significant and fundamental changes to improve our organisation for the better and for the people working in it.”

The CBI’s new director general, Rain Newton-Smith, said: “A renewed CBI can once again have a voice on the serious economic challenges the UK faces, with a general election approaching at pace. Blanket descriptions of the CBI’s culture being toxic are not correct, but we have work to do to embed a consistent set of values for staff.

“We are working with determination and hope our members will see the serious change we are delivering. Through the reimagining of our purpose, we also attract new ones to our mission. For those who recently left, tell us what you need and we will take the necessary steps. We will continue to show our value on the important issues of the day.”

“For the CBI, this has been a painful period and a time of deep reflection. We are determined to learn the lessons needed and emerge from this as a stronger organisation, one that is able to share what we’ve learned with our wider society and regain the right to be a trusted voice.” Ms Newton-Smith said in the prospectus which was sent out to CBI members.

The prospectus made the case for continuing with the lobby group ahead of a vote at emergency general meeting will will vote on its future as the UK’s voice to government. The CBI said members had told them that a “collective, national voice” was important especially with ageneral election next year.

The CBI prospectus also said that a separate report by consultants Principia Advisory, examined the organisation’s culture. “Principia do not find that blanket descriptions such as ‘toxic’ or ‘misogynistic’ are accurate or useful descriptions of CBI culture” but that “attitudes towards culture are inconsistent, with a lack of awareness of different experiences and limited self-reflection”.

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