Thursday 9 January 2014

Updating CBI Scotland

I've been meaning to update an old post of mine for quite a while now.  It's a post from three years and four days ago about how the CBI doesn't really represent many Scottish businesses at all (90 Scottish members, 62 of which were companies - that was the January 2011 membership).  When I went back to the CBI Scotland website to update the figures the directory had disappeared, gone, vanished, disapparated, desubstantiated, dissolved into nothingness, shrugged off that digital coil, shuffled into the shadows, never to be seen again.  That seemed strange - why would an organisation that used to be so proud of its members suddenly get so coy?  Once it flaunted its membership with an online directory, now it primly hides that membership behind its skirts.

Intrigued, I emailed CBI Scotland to ask - here's the exchange:
To CBI Scotland on 7/9/12 
I was wondering how many Scottish companies are CBI members. You used to have an online directory but I can't find it now, can you help?

To CBI London on 13/9/12 
I sent this request about a week ago to CBI Scotland and haven't had a response, I was wondering whether you could help me?
Do you have figures for how many CBI members are headquartered in Scotland and what sectors they're in?

Reply from CBI Scotland on 14/9/12 
Dear Mr Cashley,  
Thank you for your email enquires below which have just been passed to me; I apologise the delay in responding. The CBI is a private membership organisation and we do not disclose details of our membership, however it does include companies from all sectors and of all sizes, large and small, including manufacturing and service sectors as well as parent and subsidiary companies, plus trade associations. We held our Scottish annual dinner in Glasgow last week and were delighted to welcome almost 600 to the event. Our public policy positions are decided by our 45-strong elected CBI Scotland Council and informed by our various policy sub-groups and the wider membership. I do hope this is in order and thank you for getting in touch.  
Best wishes,  
David Lonsdale 
CBI Scotland

Both of my emails were below the CBI Scotland response; it was sent when CBI London said an answer should be sent.  It is an utterly empty response lacking any information.  No response on how many CBI members are headquartered in Scotland or how many Scottish companies are CBI members.  I thought this was a bit strange, given the previous flaunting of its membership so I asked friends of mine who live south of the Rio Tweed to ask for the same information in different ways from CBI HQ and we've not had any luck in getting any information whatsoever from the organisation that claims to speak for Scottish businesses / British businesses (and, I take it, Welsh businesses, North of England businesses and so on).

So, with this once braggart organisation becoming shy over its membership, I can't update that post in the way I wrote it but I think I can make an assumption or two and go from there.  I think it's safe to assume that the membership isn't growing - notice, even in the answer which was eventually sent to me that the inflated membership numbers that CBI Scotland used to claim in public (in, for instance, evidence to Holyrood committees) have become untenable and have disappeared.  Everything is private these days.  Let's assume that CBI membership is declining because that seems likely; belts are being tightened, non-essentials are being dispensed with, things that don't do your business any favours don't get the time of day.

That's not all; TIE, which was a member of CBI Scotland, has been wound up and no longer exists - it and Lothian Buses now make up Transport for Edinburgh (I kid you not) and Lothian Buses never wasted money on CBI membership.

Food Trade Association Management has made an application to be struck off so that will no longer be a member of CBI Scotland.

If ConocoPhilips is still a member of the CBI then it's keeping it quiet and, while it still has an operational base in Aberdeen, its UK headquarters now appears to be in London.

Chance Associates was dissolved last year.

James Barr was bought by London company GVA in October.

Laura Gordon Associates was dissolved in 2011.

SI Associates has been liquidated.

McGrigors merged with Pinsent Masons - the new HQ is in London.

Elphinstone Holdings is in administration.

WF Watt (Contracts) was wound up in 2011.

Memex Technologies had actually been bought by an American company (SAS) before I wrote the original post, so I overshot with the number of Scottish companies represented by CBI Scotland by at least one at that time.

It's actually quite a sad list that indicates some sad losses in Scotland's business base, but we should remember that there are plenty of other Scottish companies that are doing well - including some of the ones which were members of CBI Scotland in 2011.

What's clear, though, is that CBI Scotland still doesn't represent any great swathes of Scottish business opinion (and since public pronouncements made on behalf of CBI Scotland have been denied by members in the past, it doesn't seem to even represent the opinion of its own members) and its influence, weak as it is already, appears to be in further decline.  It's a shame that CBI Scotland, with probably less than 50 Scottish companies as members, feels that it needs to be so secretive about its membership - especially when it seeks to influence Scottish public policy so much on behalf of 'Scottish business' - and it's a shame that it has reacted so negatively to the constitutional debate.  It appears, however, that CBI Scotland is a bell wi nae clapper that stills rings too loudly.  I'd blow a raspberry if I knew how to write such a thing.

Maybe we should hear a lot more from the Federation of Small Businesses with its 19,000 Scottish businesses.


Anonymous said...

The CBI operate under a royal charter. Maybe you could use a freedom of information request instead?

Calum Cashley said...

Funny you should say that...