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The Guardian - UK
The Guardian - UK
Anna Isaac and Joanna Partridge

CBI dismisses director general Tony Danker after conduct complaints

Tony Danker at the CBI conference in 2021
Tony Danker is to be replaced by Rain Newton-Smith as CBI director general. Photograph: Christopher Furlong/Getty Images

Tony Danker, the head of the Confederation of British Industry, has been dismissed with immediate effect after an investigation into complaints about his conduct in the workplace.

The CBI hired a law firm to investigate him after it was approached by the Guardian about a formal complaint made in January, as well a number of alleged informal reports of concerns over his behaviour.

Danker said he was “shocked to learn” of his dismissal, adding that he was “truly sorry” for making colleagues “feel uncomfortable”.

The business lobby group said it wanted to make clear that Danker was not the subject of other complaints recently reported by the Guardian. Those other claims by more than a dozen women allege various forms of sexual misconduct by senior figures at the organisation.

The Confederation of British Industry (CBI) is the UK’s most prominent business lobbying organisation. It is a not-for-profit organisation founded by royal charter in 1965, after a merger of older employer bodies.  

It claims “unrivalled” access to government. It also claims to have the biggest number of policy specialists outside of Whitehall, the seat of the British government, in order to support its 190,000 business members, which are the chief source of its income. Its total income was £25m in 2021, of which £22m was from membership fees.

Its membership is composed of direct members and members of other trade bodies.

Its 1,500 direct members are businesses that actively hold membership, such as the supermarket Asda and the jet engine manufacturer Rolls-Royce. Fees vary significantly: top-tier businesses can pay £90,000 annually, some mid-sized companies pay half this price and smaller companies pay far less.

The bulk of its membership comes via trade bodies such as the National Farmers’ Union and the Federation of Master Builders. The CBI counts these trade bodies' memberships within its own 190,000 total.

The lobby group has access to the prime minister and cabinet, and campaigns on issues ranging from funding for childcare to tax and skills. Its relationship with the UK government was stretched severely by Brexit, with its access to Number 10 much curtailed. A remark attributed to the former prime minister  Boris Johnson – “fuck business” – was considered to be aimed at efforts by the CBI and others, to try to influence the post-Brexit UK-EU trade agreement.

Its former director general Dame Carolyn Fairbairn sought to rebuild ties with the government during the early stages of the coronavirus pandemic, including working alongside trade unions and No 10 on developing the furlough scheme. 

Tony Danker took over from Fairbairn, the CBI’s first female boss, in November 2020. He continued a focus on re-engaging with the government and the opposition Labour party. He was criticised for speaking in support of Liz Truss’s disastrous mini-budget in September 2022. 

The CBI is governed by a president and an executive committee, which, in normal times, is chaired by the director general. It also has a board of non-executive directors, which the director general sits on.
Anna Isaac   

The board of the CBI said they had determined that Danker’s conduct “fell short of that expected of the director general”.

Danker said in a statement on Twitter after the announcement: “I recognise the intense publicity the CBI has suffered following the revelations of awful events that occurred before my time in office.

“I was appalled to learn about them for the first time last week … I was nevertheless shocked to learn this morning that I had been dismissed from the CBI, instead of being invited to put my position forward as was originally confirmed.

“Many of the allegations against me have been distorted, but … I recognise that I unintentionally made a number of colleagues feel uncomfortable and I am truly sorry about that. I want to wish my former CBI colleagues every success.”

Danker is to be replaced by the CBI’s recently departed chief economist Rain Newton-Smith.

The CBI board said in the statement, some of which reflected the entirety of allegations, rather than just those against Danker: “We apologise to the victims of this organisational failure, including those impacted by the revulsion we have all felt at hearing their stories. Nobody should feel unsafe in their workplace.”

Danker’s departure comes after the government suspended most of its engagement with Britain’s most prominent business lobby group, after the reports on Danker’s conduct and the separate allegations relating to senior figures.

Both sets of claims have plunged the CBI into its greatest crisis since it was founded in 1965. The group described the allegations as “devastating” in a statement released on Tuesday. “While investigations continue into a number of these, it is already clear to all of us that there have been serious failings in how we have acted as an organisation,” the board added in its statement.

The decision to dismiss Danker comes after the conclusion of phase 1 of the independent investigation carried out by the law firm Fox Williams. The firm was brought in after the Guardian’s first report about concerns over Danker’s conduct. It is still investigating separate allegations.

The Guardian previously reported that the formal complaint against Danker was made in January by a female CBI employee. It is understood she claimed he had made unwanted contact with her, which she considered to be sexual harassment.

After the complaint, Danker initially continued in his role representing the organisation in the media and at public events.

The CBI previously confirmed to the Guardian that it had received a formal complaint about Danker’s “workplace conduct” but opted not to escalate it to a disciplinary process.

The business lobby group added that three other CBI employees have been suspended during further investigations into a number of other allegations.

The group confirmed that it is liaising with the police as the next phase of its inquiry into other complaints against other senior figures at the organisation continues, and it intends to cooperate fully with any police investigations.

Newton-Smith was the CBI’s chief economist from August 2014 until March this year, where she led its economic policy, analysis and survey teams and its work with the Treasury, before leaving to join Barclays as a managing director overseeing strategy, policy and sustainability.

Last week, the CBI announced it was cancelling or pausing its schedule of events with members, including its annual dinner on 11 May, after the Guardian’s publication of the second set of allegations by the dozen women.

Past dinners have gathered the UK’s most powerful business bosses and cabinet ministers. The Bank of England’s governor, Andrew Bailey, had been due to speak, before the Bank determined it would be best that he withdraw in light of the allegations, the Guardian understands.

The dinner was to be held at Old Billingsgate, a former fish market in the City of London, with tables of 10 selling for £4,900.

Members, whose fees make up the lion’s share of the lobby group’s income, said they were reconsidering their ties to the CBI pending the outcome of the full Fox Williams investigation.

Speaking last week, before the decision to dismiss Danker and after additional and separate allegations, Andy Wood, the beer company Adnams’s chief executive, told BBC Radio 4 the company had considered the possibility of leaving the lobby group.

“I was discussing this with our senior management team only this week, so, yes, it is on our agenda,” he said. “But we would prefer to see the CBI sort itself out. It needs to be setting the standards here. Where we are at the moment is unacceptable.”

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