Jeremy Hunt says it is important for the government to engage with a body that is representative of the business community and there is “no point” in talking to the CBI while the lobby group is dealing with allegations that have brought its future into doubt.
Speaking at the Business Connect conference attended by the prime minister, an event arranged by Downing Street to address the business community, Mr Hunt said the government would continue to engage with business with or without the CBI.
His comments come after scores of high-profile companies announced they were suspending or ending their membership of the 58-year-old lobby group following allegations of sexual misconduct and rape by some members of staff.
“There’s no point in engaging with the CBI when their own members have deserted them in droves, so we want to engage with a body that speaks for business,” Mr Hunt said.
“It’s incredibly important for me when I am constructing budgets to have someone I can turn to that speaks for British business because we are a very, very pro-business government.
“It’s not for us to say how that happens because this needs to be an independent body.
“We are obviously very concerned about the allegations of what’s happened at the CBI – they are very, very serious.
“We would like to engage with business through a representative body when we can, but we’re not stopping, that’s why we have 60% of FTSE chief executives here today. We’re perfectly capable of engaging with business and we will continue to.”
The CBI has been the primary point of contact for the government with the business community for decades, a role that is now in doubt.
Representing around 190,000 companies, the CBI was central to negotiations with ministers and unions to establish the furlough scheme at the outbreak of the pandemic.
It has also been a thorn in the side for ministries however, articulating the broad opposition to Brexit among companies during the referendum campaign, a position that prompted Boris Johnson to notoriously declare “f*** business”.
Rishi Sunak’s presence at the Business Connect event, at which he took questions from company bosses, was an attempt to convince employers that his government is pro-business after months of political and economic instability.
Mr Hunt said he and the PM are committed to delivering what business needs.
“You have a chancellor and a prime minister who are both from a private sector background, it is in our DNA,” he said.
“I would say that what businesses say is that it is actions not words that really matter and we are very, very committed to that because as Conservatives we don’t think governments create wealth; businesses do that.”
He added: “It is not for us to decide who business wants to engage with but we are not going to wait for a reincarnation of the CBI or whoever, we want to engage the whole time, every week, every day, with business.”
Chancellor declares there is ‘no point’ engaging with the CBI with its future in doubt