The writer is CBI President

For almost 60 years, the CBI has been the recognised voice of business in the UK, representing the common interests of enterprises across all sectors of industry and all regions and nations of the country. We have been at the heart of political and economic decisions and have fought tooth and nail for positive change on many fronts.

In the past few months, however, our position has been put into jeopardy following some disturbing allegations. Events have left us chastened, and members, the media and political stakeholders have all rightly questioned our culture, purpose and relevance.

In response, we have gone back to basics. Over the past 12 weeks, we suspended our policy work and undertook one of the biggest member listening exercises in the CBI’s history. We reflected on our strengths and faults, worked with external experts and put together a map for the road ahead.

Tuesday is the culmination of that hard work. During our extraordinary general meeting, members will decide whether they support our plan for a renewed CBI or not. Succeed and we can make a leaner, more accountable and inclusive organisation, fail and we lose precious time to fight for our members and a stronger economy and society.

To members, as well as the wider business community, I want to say that the outcome of Tuesday’s vote isn’t a given. We don’t take the result for granted and we need you to support our plan — not just to get the organisation back on its feet but to build on our strengths, overhaul our weaknesses and create a CBI that works better for our staff, our members and firms across all sectors, regions and nations.

I know that this is something many of our members want to see. During these difficult months, I have appreciated their help, especially those who shared in detail the cultural journeys that their own organisations have had to undertake. This is a road that many of you can walk with us.

However, this all starts with our plan. Published last week, the prospectus is a comprehensive and ambitious document that draws on the independent insights of business ethics consultancy Principia’s work with CBI staff. It outlines the concrete changes that we’ve already implemented, alongside how we can go even further in the future.

We have created a chief people officer to sit on our executive committee and ensure people issues are front and centre of our daily operations. By the EGM we will also have started implementing — or completed — the 34 recommendations outlined in the independent Fox Williams report on this crisis. The prospectus also outlines changes to our governance structures to make us more accountable to members — such as creating a people and culture subcommittee, refreshing our board and accelerating the search for my successor. 

A vote in favour of the prospectus won’t solve our problems overnight. But it would give us the tools we need to fix our culture long term and the backing to do what we do best: fight on behalf of business across the country.

With a general election a year away, it is crucial that we get back to that important policy and lobbying work. Businesses need a strong, collective, national voice to fight for UK-wide issues such as higher economic growth, lower inflation and a smooth transition to net zero. While trade associations and other business groups do a great and important job in representing their sectors and their members, no one else has the breadth and depth of economic and political expertise to fulfil this role. There is a reason why every major economy in the world has a CBI equivalent. 

The CBI has repeatedly delivered real change for business and the UK for nearly 60 years. Acting as a collective voice, we secured the Energy Bill Relief Scheme, to help the firms who have been hit hardest by energy price rises. In the Spring Budget this year, we secured a vital investment replacement for the “super-deduction” tax break and the biggest expansion in childcare support in decades — which is expected to help over 75,000 parents back into work.

During the financial crisis, our breadth and scale allowed us to bring SMEs into detailed discussions with the Treasury about bank ringfencing debates. In the pandemic, we fought for one of the most ambitious economic rescue packages in the world.

Time and time again, we have been there to fight for business and our members. We have worked with governments, regardless of party, and persuaded politicians through evidence to implement policies that help the economy and improve the lives of households. With Tuesday’s vote, we have a chance to regain our voice on the serious economic challenges the UK faces.

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