New business group launched to rival CBI ahead of crunch vote

The scandal-hit CBI has a new rival after the British Chambers of Commerce (BCC) launched a new business group corporate giants such as BP and Heathrow among its members
The scandal-hit CBI has a new rival after the British Chambers of Commerce (BCC) launched a new business group corporate giants such as BP and Heathrow among its members

A NEW business group has been launched with corporate giants such as BP and Heathrow among its members ahead of a D-Day crunch vote on the future of the scandal-hit Confederation of British Industry (CBI).

The British Chambers of Commerce (BCC) has set up the Business Council with a mission to "design and drive the future of the British economy".

It said founding members include some of the UK's biggest companies, including FTSE 100 oil giant BP, Heathrow, Holiday Inn owner IHG Hotels & Resorts and power station firm Drax.

The BCC's director-general, Shevaun Haviland, and president Baroness Martha Lane Fox are gathering business leaders for a round-table meeting in London on Monday to discuss the new business group offering.

It comes as the CBI prepares for a crucial vote on Tuesday as the formerly influential lobbying group tries to secure its future following a series of sexual harassment allegations.

The group was forced back to the drawing board in April to come up with a plan which it hopes can help members regain their confidence in its ability to represent them.

But the BCC's rival group is hoping to garner the support of those businesses which have ended or suspended their membership with the CBI and are not part of the vote.

Ms Haviland said: "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.

"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."

She said the Business Council will focus on five challenges facing the economy - the digital revolution, people and work, net zero, global Britain, and the high street.

She added: "These challenges will form the backdrop to the next general election, which we know will come before the end of next year, and which everyone in Westminster is already gearing up for.

"The voice of business needs to be heard loud and clear, and now is the right time for us to speak up."

But the CBI's new director-general, Rain Newton-Smith, said she will "fight for the organisation" ahead of Tuesday's vote.

Members will vote on a new prospectus, which includes appointing a new president and giving members an annual vote on the make-up of its board, following claims of sexual harassment at the CBI made by more than a dozen women, with two separate allegations of rape.

Speaking on the BBC's Sunday With Laura Kuenssberg programme, Ms Newton-Smith said: "It's been absolutely devastating to read about some of these instances, and I hope we are emerging from what has been a really deep and painful crisis for us as an organisation."

Around a dozen firms, including engineering giant Siemens, Microsoft and oil firm Esso, signed a joint letter published in The Times on Monday backing the CBI and its overhaul ahead of Tuesday's vote.

Former CBI head Tony Danker was dismissed on April 11 following complaints made against him, including one sexual harassment claim.

His exit came after the Guardian reported the allegations made against him in articles in March and April.

Law firm Fox Williams was appointed to carry out an independent investigation and a number of other people were also dismissed by the CBI.

Mr Danker told the BBC his name had been wrongly associated with separate claims, including the alleged rapes which reportedly happened before he joined the CBI.

Aviva was the first major business to cut ties with the group, with dozens of the biggest names in British business soon following suit.

Baroness Lane Fox told Times Radio that business needs to be represented "coherently and well".

"It's really important right now that business has a voice in government," she said.

"We need to make sure the needs of business people are represented - not because of corporate greed - 30 per cent of people in this country work in business.

"We must make sure, whatever happens to the CBI, the BCC continues to represent business coherently and well."