New CBI director general Digby Jones gave an assured performance at his inaugural press conference on Tuesday. His background with one of the big five accountancy firms seems de rigeur for the CBI’s top job, but unusually Jones has direct experience of lobbying for business. As chairman of the CBI’s West Midlands region he has also held a number of non-executive directorships.
Jones came across as the essence of reasonableness: his politics, which he described as centre-right but which have never been strong enough to make him join a political party, suit an organisation which he says should `transcend politics’. He is happy with most of the CBI’s policies including what has been described as a `nuanced compromise’ on euro membership. He promises to engage constructively with the Government and unions and eschew `picking fights just to grandstand’. He will support the Government where its policies encourage wealth creation – and he added that there was much with which he agreed – and attack it where it fails to do this.
Small businesses will find much to commend in his professed intention to get out around the country and meet them in a drive to make the CBI more relevant to their needs. On over-regulation he promised to find examples of businesses where red tape has affected profitability, take the results to trade and industry secretary Stephen Byers, and ask for action.
Jones played down the suggestion that with his West Midlands connections he may hold a special brief for manufacturing – and even questioned whether the manufacturing/services distinction was any longer meaningful. But there is much in his background and his stated priorities that suggests he will be sympathetic to manufacturers’ concerns.