CBI not political, says Cridland

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Published: Friday 16th January 2015 by The News Editor

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The CBI “is not and do not wish to be” a political organisation, its UK leader has said.

The business group caused some controversy last year when it tried to officially register as a supporter of the pro-union Better Together campaign during the Scottish independence referendum.

The move sparked a backlash which saw about 20 bodies, including several Scottish universities, the BBC and STV, leave the organisation.

The Electoral Commission later ruled that the CBI’s application to register as a supporter of a No vote was void.

Director general John Cridland said it “wasn’t the CBI’s finest moment” and he hopes the organisation can make a “new start” with the appointment of Hugh Aitken as Scottish director.

Mr Aitken has previously worked as the general manager of Microsoft Nevada and vice-president of worldwide manufacturing at Oracle. He replaces Iain McMillan, who was director of CBI Scotland for 19 years.

In the aftermath of the Electoral Commission episode, Mr McMillan announced that he would retire after the referendum but the decision had been made months earlier and had no connection to the referendum row, the CBI said.

Mr Cridland said: “The Electoral Commission episode wasn’t the CBI’s finest moment, we made some mistakes, but what did we do? We put our hands up, we were absolutely transparent that we made an error in good faith. We shouldn’t have registered and I was very honest about that.

“The CBI played, I believe, a very constructive role throughout the referendum campaign, commenting on the issues members wanted us to comment on – the economic issues.

“We are not and do not wish to be a political organisation.”

Mr Cridland added that the organisation is in “active discussions” with the companies and bodies that resigned membership last year and said “it is a matter for them when and if they choose to rejoin the CBI”.

“We’re making a new start,” Mr Cridland said.

“I worked with Iain for almost 19 years and he made a fantastic contribution to Scottish business, but now there is a new director who has my full support to take the CBI forward in an important and challenging year, the CBI looks to the future with enthusiasm.

“I’m hugely excited to have Hugh on board, he’s a man of huge business experience, particularly in the IT sector, and he has had international business links for many years, but his roots and passion is for Scotland.”

The CBI is said to have about 1,200 members in Scotland and Mr Aitken plans to meet businesses and government figures in the next few weeks to get to grips with the job.

He said: “My immediate aim is to speak to members, the CBI council, the government and civil service to get the lie of the land over the first 90 days.

“It’s critical (to repair relationships). We don’t look backwards, we look forwards and there’s so much opportunity here with devolution coming through and my job is to put a plan in place that allows that devolution to have a positive effect for the business community.”

Despite working in the US for a number of years, Mr Aitken was delighted to return to Scotland to take up his new role.

“This job ticks all the boxes, working with government, business and industry to create the right climate to make the country successful.”

Scotland’s Deputy First Minister John Swinney said: “I would like to extend my congratulations to Hugh Aitken on his appointment as Director of CBI Scotland.

“He has a wealth of international business experience and I look forward to working closely with him – and CBI members – to build a fairer and more prosperous Scotland.”

Published: Friday 16th January 2015 by The News Editor

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