The CBI faced ridicule hours before a vote on its future on Tuesday after a senior executive hailed its “transparent” handling of the misconduct crisis which has left it facing collapse – despite blocking the media and resigned members from watching a pivotal general meeting.
Sky News has seen an email sent by Henry Aldridge, the CBI’s deputy director of trade associations, on Monday which urged members to speak publicly in support of the business lobbying group.
Mr Aldridge obliquely addressed an attempt by the British Chambers of Commerce to capitalise on its rival’s travails, saying that “any public message of support would be appreciated”.
“The CBI’s collective voice, is the only credible voice for all business, that is truly representative and backed up by economic rigour.
“It is not in the interests of business to have that voice split.”
He claimed that the CBI’s prospectus for reform, published last week, outlined the changes the CBI had made “in as transparent and detailed way as is humanly possible”.
One executive at a trade association which was previously a CBI member and who had been forwarded Mr Aldridge’s email said the claim was “laughable”.
“We are not allowed to even watch the EGM today, so how can we possibly decide whether there might be a case to be made in future to rejoin?,” he said.
Mr Aldridge also denounced the media’s coverage of the CBI crisis, describing it as “often not well-informed”.
“We take nothing for granted as to the outcome of the EGM.
“However, as soon as possible after the EGM we will host a [trade association] symposium, so we can get back to work, together.
“There is no time to lose to focus on the cross-economy priorities that we all recognise as crucial to businesses across all sectors, regions and nations – not least with the Autumn statement and a General Election coming down the track.”
At the weekend, a small group of CBI members, led by the German company Siemens, wrote a letter endorsing the CBI’s future mandate.
Compared to the deluge of blue-chip members which have torn up their subscriptions, however, messages of vocal support have been largely conspicuous by their absence.
On Monday, Sky News revealed that the CBI’s pension trustees had held preliminary talks with third parties about ways to protect its member’s interests.
Tuesday’s vote will determine the immediate future of a group which claims to represent 190,000 businesses, and which was incorporated by royal charter in 1965.
The board of the CBI has drafted in lawyers to prepare for a prospective insolvency filing ahead of the crunch vote.
An adverse outcome from a vote at its extraordinary general meeting would leave directors with little choice but to begin a process to wind it up.
The CBI’s survival has been cast into doubt by its handling of a sexual misconduct scandal which put paid to the career of Tony Danker, its director-general, and has left it facing a potentially lengthy police investigation.
Many members and insiders expect the CBI to win the vote by a clear margin.
A significant number of CBI staff are expected to lose their jobs even if it survives.