Goodness me. What on earth is going on at the Confederation of British Industry? The trade organisation which claims to be the voice of Britain’s biggest companies has just put a temporary halt to all public outings and events following toxic new allegations of sexual misconduct – including rape – within the lobbying group.

Its annual dinner scheduled for 11 May has been called off – a deeply embarrassing move as it’s one of those annual shindigs attended by the great and the good of industry and politics and where the Chancellor is usually the guest speaker.

This year’s guest was due to be Andrew Bailey, governor of the Bank of England, as the Chancellor is out of the country. It is understood that it was Bailey himself who decided not to attend the event because of the scandal surrounding the CBI, prompting the lobbying group to suspend all public engagements.

The Governor is not the only one to distance himself: according to the BBC, the Treasury is also “pausing” all engagement with the organisation pending the results of its independent investigation into the allegations of sexual misconduct and drug use.

The latest decision to postpone all public events follows on from the investigation already being conducted by law firm, Fox Williams, into separate allegations made against Tony Danker, the CBI’s director general, who has stepped aside and “apologised profusely”. According to the Guardian – which broke the story – these latest claims do not relate to Danker, who has been in the job for two years. 

Fox Williams, appointed last month to investigate Danker, is also in charge of the expanded investigation which is said to centre on the claims of more than a dozen women who say they have been victims of forms of sexual harassment and misconduct by senior CBI figures.

It also reports that the women approached the newspaper with their concerns after the first allegations against Danker emerged. Their claims have been backed up by more than ten other past and present employees. The most serious allegation relates to a woman who claims she was raped by a senior colleague at a CBI summer boat party in 2019. The woman told the Guardian she felt let down by a CBI manager who, she claims, advised her to seek out counselling rather than pursue the matter further.

Others have described the atmosphere at the CBI’s most senior levels as deeply macho, a culture that is riven with misogyny and pomposity at the top. 

It has its critics outside, too. Many in the business community say that power has gone to the CBI’s head, that its senior figures have been enjoying the privilege of representing the UK’s biggest business at the highest levels of government while ignoring the needs of smaller companies.

There are also big questions over its membership, numbers which the CBI refuses to publish. It claims it represents more than 190,000 businesses and “seven million voices”, yet outsiders say it fails to represent the six million or so SMEs which provide most of the jobs and wealth in the country. 

It’s also being said that CBI members are already withdrawing from the lobbying group because of the expanding crisis, one which many companies are describing as “existential.” 

Obviously, the CBI cannot comment in detail on the allegations as that would be prejudicial to the inquiries, other than to say it is treating “all matters of workplace conduct with the utmost seriousness” and will not hesitate to take action if required.  

Yet for a lobbying group which claims to be the voice of British business and the “UK’s most effective and influential business organisation”, it is odd that as far as we can tell there has not been a squeak from CBI’s top brass, which include president Brian McBride and vice-president Lord Bilmoria, founder of Cobra Beer. They should say something, even if it is a holding statement. 

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