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The CBI is to announce it will resume holding external events this week after a four-month hiatus during which it has battled to contain the fallout from allegations about sexual misconduct and a toxic workplace culture at the organisation.
The plans to restart in-person events, first reported by the Sunday Times, were confirmed by people close to the CBI, which was the UK’s premier business lobby group when it was engulfed in scandal in April.
At the time the CBI cancelled all external events, including its annual dinner, after several women came forward alleging there was a toxic workplace culture and sexual harassment at the organisation.
Ministers responded to the claims of wrongdoing at the CBI published by The Guardian — which included two allegations of rape that police decided to investigate — by refusing to hold meetings with the group.
Several of the CBI’s leading member companies, including Aviva, BP, Drax, KPMG, Tesco and NatWest announced they had cancelled their subscriptions.
Following the allegations the CBI appointed its former chief economist, Rain Newton-Smith, as the organisation’s chief executive and instituted a “root and branch” review of its workplace culture by the international law firm Fox Williams.
At an extraordinary general meeting in June CBI members voted to approve a plan to overhaul the organisation’s governance and culture, opening the door to a gradual resumption of its public-facing activities, including sending out survey results, press releases and commentary on quarterly economic data.
FTSE 100 companies HSBC, Diageo and SSE voted to back the CBI plan, although some — including Shell — said they would take a final decision on whether to renew subscriptions later this year.
With an anticipated drop-off in membership fee income, the CBI has told staff it will need to restructure and refocus the organisation, cutting its wage bill by one-third, with some redundancies inevitable.
At the height of the scandal in April, chancellor Jeremy Hunt said there was “no point engaging with the CBI when their own members have deserted them in droves”, raising questions about the long-term viability of a lobby group without access to government.
The department for business and trade said in June the government would “engage with businesses on a case-by-case basis and business groups where appropriate”.
Since then the CBI has started to re-engage with senior Whitehall officials and this month Newton-Smith attended a business roundtable meeting chaired by City of London minister Andrew Griffith.
At the time a senior government official said the event was a sign of “some normalisation” of relations between the CBI and the government.
A government insider said on Sunday ministers and departments would continue to decide on merit whether to take up opportunities to engage with the CBI.