PwC UK chair backs ‘loud restart’ of CBI after scandal

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The UK head of PwC has become the most high-profile business leader to back the CBI, calling for a “loud restart” after a misconduct scandal that pushed the country’s most prominent business lobby group to the brink of collapse last year. 

Kevin Ellis, PwC’s UK chair, told the Financial Times his business had decided to pay its annual subscription and to resume active membership, nine months after halting engagement with the organisation. 

The decision, and Ellis’s move publicly to back the CBI, comes at a critical moment for the lobby group, which suspended activities last year as members rushed to distance themselves following allegations of serious sexual misconduct, including rape, at the organisation. 

After an overhaul by chief executive Rain Newton-Smith, who took on the role after the scandal erupted and fought to keep the organisation afloat, the CBI is now trying to convince larger companies to return.

It has struggled to win public support from big businesses in recent months but Ellis expected that other senior executives would join him in backing the group, adding that there was now a “tipping point” where heads needed to choose whether to rejoin. “I think if we wait any longer it will be too late,” he said.

“If the need is to get it going quickly — because you do want a loud restart — then I think it would be quite helpful if we go out publicly and say we’re back in,” he said.

“In the nine months of virtual standstill at the CBI, what’s been pretty clear is there hasn’t been an alternative voice for business,” said Ellis. It would be important to have a single voice for enterprise in a year with elections in the UK and US as well as continuing economic challenges such as inflation, he added. 

“Our conclusion is that if it isn’t the CBI, I’m not sure who it will be,” said Ellis. “If something else had emerged, we might not have needed them.”

The lobby group relies on the breadth of its membership for credibility in meetings with government and for fee income to fund its activities. 

The appointment in December of former Serco and Aggreko chief executive Rupert Soames as CBI president was a key factor in PwC’s decision to continue its membership, along with its efforts to address shortcomings in its governance. 

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