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Businesses must be handed more support, says CBI boss

Businesses facing ‘bleak midwinter’ and must be handed more support, boss of Confederation of British Industry Dame Carolyn Fairbairn warns

Businesses are facing a ‘bleak midwinter’ and must be handed more support, the boss of the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) has warned. 

As the country prepares for a second lockdown, Dame Carolyn Fairbairn urged the Government to step up mass testing and provide tailored support to beleaguered businesses to prevent Christmas insolvencies. 

Ahead of the CBI’s annual conference, which begins today, Fairbairn also warned that women’s careers are being hit the hardest by the coronavirus pandemic. 

Warning: Dame Carolyn Fairbairn urged the Government to step up mass testing and provide tailored support to beleaguered businesses

She called for more business involvement in lockdown planning, and told Boris Johnson that communication must improve to ‘minimise confusion and build confidence’. 

Fairbairn said: ‘For many businesses, a second lockdown marks the start of a bleak midwinter. 

‘We must use this lockdown month to prepare and roll-out mass testing as a matter of national urgency. However, some sectors may need more tailored support in the coming weeks.’

It came as Fairbairn, the CBI’s first female director general, also warned women are at risk of having their careers damaged by Covid-19. 

As she prepares to step down from the helm this week after five years, Fairbairn said men need to do more to help women smash the glass ceiling. 

She also lambasted the Government for suspending rules that compel firms to report their gender pay gap, saying she saw ‘no reason’ why the requirement had been put on ice because of the virus. Fairbairn said men with daughters could be ‘allies’ in the cause of female equality. 

The 59-year-old combined a 25-year career in business with marriage and a family. She has a son and two daughters with her entrepreneur husband. ‘I worry that Covid just sets us back,’ she said. ‘With kids at home there is still an imbalance in who looks after them.’ She said that creates strain on women working at home. She said companies needed to stop seeing equality as just a ‘women’s issue’. 

‘It is in everyone’s interest for women to achieve their potential. Men with daughters can be very strong allies on this.’ She said gender pay gap reporting could be ‘another potential casualty’ of the virus and branded the Government’s decision to suspend it as a backward step. 

The Government introduced a new rule in 2017 that firms with more than 250 employees must reveal the disparity between how much they pay male and female workers. Last year, the gender pay gap overall was 17.3 per cent, meaning that on average, women were paid less than 83p for every male pound. 

But the requirement to disclose unequal pay has been put on ice, due to the pandemic. 

Fairbairn called for it to be reinstated. ‘It doesn’t seem there is any reason gender pay gap reporting had to be paused,’ she said. Fairbairn hopes that her male successor, Tony Danker, will continue her campaigning.