The CBI’s business lobby group was hit with a new threat to its future on Sunday as its rival, the British Chambers of Commerce, set up a new grouping in a bold move to become the voice of the UK’s most prominent businesses.
BP and Heathrow are among the companies that have joined the newly formed business council, which the BCC says was part of a “new national range of businesses”.
Power generation group Drax and hotel group IHG have also signed up as founding members of the council, which the BCC says aims to “design and drive the future of the UK economy”.
It follows the departure of the CBI by some of its leading members, including Aviva and NatWest, following a scandal over allegations of sexual harassment and other misconduct.
BCC director-general Shevaun Haviland said: “In recent months, working closely with the chamber network, we have been talking to the country’s largest companies and it has become clear to us that they are looking for a different kind of representation.”
“These companies want to be part of a framework rooted in their local communities, but with the ability to shape national and international debate.”
BCC leaders will meet in London on Monday with the board’s founders and other potential members, just a day before the CBI is holding an extraordinary general meeting to seek the support of its members.
The formation of a new big business council by the BCC provoked an unhappy reaction within the CBI, which has been blocked by ministers and has halted most activities since April.
A person close to the CBI said: “The timing of this is very opportunistic. Companies succeed through a joint approach and we find that more effective.”
The CBI, whose membership overlaps in part with that of the BCC, has told staff it will cut wage bills by a third after high-profile members pause or cancel their memberships.
Siemens and Microsoft have taken the lead at the last minute in bolstering support for the CBI ahead of Tuesday’s vote of confidence in the organization.
Uncertainty about whether the CBI will survive has led to questions about whether one of its rivals could expand to close the gap. It may also be replaced by a new organization or merger of other, smaller lobby groups.
The BCC said the new council will focus on issues for the UK economy ahead of the next general election, including digitalisation, net-zero policies and the future of the high street.
Haviland said Westminster was already gearing up for elections before the end of 2024. “The voice of business needs to be heard loud and clear, and now is the right time for us to speak out,” she said.
Louise Kingham, Head of UK and Senior Vice President for Europe at BP, said: “The UK needs to maintain its international competitiveness and it is essential that the voice of business is heard.”
Haviland told the FT last month that the BCC was “holding talks” with some unnamed former CBI members about joining her organization. She told the body’s annual conference on May 17 that her organization was an advocate “for every business.”