The Confederation of British Industry (CBI) faces a crunch vote later on Tuesday as the formerly influential lobbying group tries to secure its future following a series of sexual harassment allegations.
Members will be asked whether its plan for renewal is enough to give them “the confidence you need to support the CBI” – a vote which will determine the future path of the scandal-hit group.
But a raft of major companies have already quit the CBI due to the allegations – including John Lewis, Aviva and ITV – and are not taking part in the vote, while the Government has also suspended its engagement with the group.
She told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “Even throughout this crisis, the vast majority of the CBI members have stayed with us.”
She said she will “challenge” the Government to reconsider its current veto if members give the CBI their vote of confidence.
Ms Newton-Smith told Today: “If we can show we have the support of our members, with 3.5 million private sector jobs represented by our direct membership, and a huge million jobs also represented through our trade association networks, why won’t you speak to us?”
The vote will be held for members during the extraordinary general meeting (EGM) which begins at noon on Tuesday.
Members will vote on a new prospectus, which includes appointing a new president and giving members an annual vote on the make-up of its board, following claims of sexual harassment at the CBI made by more than a dozen women, with two separate allegations of rape.
About a dozen firms, including engineering giant Siemens, Microsoft and oil firm Esso, signed a joint letter published in The Times on Monday backing the CBI and its overhaul ahead of Tuesday’s vote.
But CBI president Brian McBride said on Monday that the outcome of the critical vote is not a “given”.
He wrote in the Financial Times: “Succeed and we can make a leaner, more accountable and inclusive organisation, fail and we lose precious time to fight for our members and a stronger economy and society.
“To members, as well as the wider business community, I want to say that the outcome of Tuesday’s vote isn’t a given.”
A new business group was also launched on Monday hoping to garner the support of those businesses which have ended or suspended their membership with the CBI and are not part of the vote.
BCC director-general Shevaun Haviland said: “We have been talking to the nation’s largest corporates and it has become clear to us that they are looking for a different kind of representation.”
Former CBI head Tony Danker was dismissed on April 11 following complaints made against him, including one sexual harassment claim.
His departure came after the Guardian reported the allegations against him in articles in March and April.
Law firm Fox Williams was appointed to carry out an independent investigation and a number of other people were also dismissed by the CBI.
Mr Danker told the BBC his name had been wrongly associated with separate claims, including the alleged rapes which reportedly happened before he joined the CBI.
Aviva was the first major business to cut ties with the group after the allegations, with dozens of the biggest names in British business soon following suit.