The Federation of Small Businesses is facing accusations that it appointed a “plastic chairman, rather than a truly elected chairman that reflects the wishes of members”.
The group told The Times that it denied claims that changes to its governance had resulted in members losing influence and a new national chairman, Mike Cherry, being appointed without a vote.
The row has coincided with a series of resignations and suspensions from the lobby group, which has almost 170,000 members.
Paul Horan, a former member of the federation, said: “The organisation is supposed to be the voice of small businesses. It is not even giving its own members a voice at the moment.”
The dispute relates to reforms agreed in 2014 to make the federation’s board much smaller. Critics say that this has given too much power to a cabal at the expense of members.
Mr Cherry was elected “unopposed” this month, the federation said. Two other candidates for the leadership, one of whom is suspended, were blocked from running.
An anonymous posting on the federation’s Wikipedia page, which has since been edited, said that the blocking of the candidates had been “a highly politicised manoeuvre involving the . . . manipulation of election rules”.
The organisations network across the UK appears to be imploding as a number of senior federation officials, including the Suffolk chairman, Chris Soule, have left over their concerns about how it is being run.
Jim Gardner, a member based in Scotland, told The Times that : “Mr Cherry can’t say he is elected or speaks for the members. I don’t believe the FSB is a member-led or democratic organisation now.”
The federation said that the blocked candidates were considered unsuitable by its nominations committee, which is overseen by representatives of members and not the board.
The FSB is the third major employers group to face internal strife. The CBI and British Chambers of Commerce both fell foul of the debate over Britain’s membership of the European Union.
Mr Horan has been expelled from the federation after his complaints for what the group called a “serious breach of the members’ code of conduct”.
Sandra Dexter, the federation’s national vice-chairman, said: “The elections were overseen by Electoral Reform Services to ensure the results are robust and the process is independent and transparent.”