Theresa May officially backed down on her promise to put workers on company boards

LONDON — Theresa May has officially backtracked on a key pledge she made prior to succeeding David Cameron as prime minister.

Speaking during her leadership campaign in July, May said she would put workers on the boards of their companies, as part of a wider project to make Britain “work for everyone” and reign in the power of big businesses.

This is what she said: “Big business needs to change. If I’m prime minister, we’re going to have not just consumers represented on company boards but employees as well.”

However, the Tory prime minister told an audience of business leaders in London on Monday that these plans had been dropped and instead companies will simply have the option to implement this system if they please.

“Let me be clear about some important points,” May said at the Confederation of British Industry’s 2016 conference.

“First, while it is important that the voices of workers and consumers should be represented, I can categorically tell you that this is not about mandating works councils, or the direct appointment of workers or trade union representatives on boards.

“Some companies may find that these models work best for them — but there are other routes that use existing board structures, complemented or supplemented by advisory councils or panels, to ensure all those with a stake in the company are properly represented. It will be a question of finding the model that works.”

The prime minister had come under pressure to revise the bold plan from business leaders, who were concerned that being forced to appoint employees to boards would undermine corporate effectiveness, objections that were supported by the Treasury.

May’s pledge to have workers appointed to the boards of big companies was a major part of her pitch to the nation before becoming prime minister. In particular, it was a clear attempt to appeal to millions of working-class voters who are likely to be up for grabs given the recent demise of the Labour Party.

The U-turn has already been jumped upon by opposition MPs and senior trade union figures. Former Labour leadership candidate Owen Smith tweeted saying: “So, shockingly, Mrs May isn’t going to put workers on boards, but is going to cut Corporation Tax and the Top Rate. Who’d have thought it?”

Frances O’Grady, general secretary of the Trades Union Congress, also criticised the prime minister. She tweeted saying: “If Mrs May says Brexit means Brexit, surely workers on boards means workers on boards?”

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