MAGGIE PAGANO: Stay of execution for CBI after confidence vote

MAGGIE PAGANO: Stay of execution for CBI as new boss manages to bring the big boys back on side

Even more astonishing than the whopping vote of confidence given to the CBI by its members yesterday was the revelation that the country’s supposedly biggest lobbying group appears to have just 394 members.

Some 371 took part in the poll – with 93pc supporting the CBI – while 23 members either abstained or withheld their vote.

What we don’t know from the result is how many of those members – who had one vote each – were a direct corporate member or a trade association. 

We also don’t know how many members have left over the last few months since allegations of inappropriate conduct first broke in March, leading to the sacking of Tony Danker, the director-general, which then led to the floodgates opening with separate claims of sex and drugs-related wrongdoings.

Several high-profile members such as the John Lewis Partnership, BMW and ITV confirmed they were leaving and it is thought that around 25 per cent of the total membership may have resigned in total.

Crisis management: CBI director general Rain Newton-Smith (pictured) was brought in to clean-up the mess after a series sex scandals first broke in March

But even if you add that number back, it is still a surprisingly tiny number of members for an organisation which claims to speak on behalf of 190,000 businesses, which together employ nearly 7m workers – about one third of all private sector-employees. 

It also explains why the CBI has always been so opaque, if not secretive, about the true size of its membership.

After the last few horrendous months, Rain Newton-Smith, the new director-general, must be feeling pleased with herself.

She has managed to bring the big boys back on side. And the victory has given her breathing space. But it may turn out to be Pyrrhic. Restoring reputations is not easy.

What has been interesting to see over the last few weeks is how those lobbying the hardest to keep the CBI alive were not UK household names, but foreign-owned giants like Microsoft, Siemens and ExxonMobil.

These are firms that need the clout the CBI used to have with ministers. Regaining the trust of the Government – which paused relations after the scandals erupted – is going to be her next big challenge along with keeping existing members sweet.

One of the comments regularly made by bosses since the troubles began is that it has made them question whether being a CBI member served any purpose. Can Newton-Smith persuade them to stay?

There is already a new girl on the block preparing to take over from the CBI, who has been successfully sweet-talking not only big corporates but ministers too.

That is Baroness Lane-Fox, president of the British Chambers of Commerce, who only on Monday set up a new internal business council. 

Heavyweights including BP, Heathrow, hotels group IHG and Drax have signed up, demonstrating that the BCC has sway beyond its excellent regional network. Out with the old, in with the new.

Lift the threshold

The formidable Baroness Altmann has a good eye for injustice. Her latest mission to persuade the Chancellor to raise the tax thresholds on savings income is spot on. 

With rising interest rates, another 6m or so savers will be paying tax on their returns.

That a Conservative Government sets such ludicrously low thresholds should be anathema to its philosophy of rewarding those who work. 

But philosophy – or indeed principle – does not cut through to the Treasury brain where nothing is sacred in the quest to raise more and more tax.

Yet Jeremy Hunt should listen closely to the former pensions minister.

Altmann makes the excellent point that even though interest rates are rising, savers are still the losers in real terms as returns lag behind the rate of inflation.

She also has logic on her side. Encouraging people to save rather than spend will help in the fight to curb inflation. Sadly, logic is not a concept that holds much sway with either Hunt or the Treasury.

Green core 

Sir Keir Starmer has become such a hard-core greenie that even the unions are furious with him. 

GMB has joined Unite in attacking Starmer for his catastrophic plan to ban all new oil and gas developments in the North Sea if he gets elected. 

They claim the ban will lead to tens of thousands of lost jobs, even weaker energy security and higher emissions because of imports.

They are right. Rishi Sunak should make life difficult for Labour by granting as many new North Sea licenses as possible ahead of the next election.

He might even please the unions.