by Michael Faulkner and Michelle Hannen

The CII is pushing for a joint conference with Biba next year.

CII deputy president Bob Beckett said: "I see a great opportunity to join the conferences. The Biba conference is great for networking, while the CII conference is great for the technical side.

"A single conference would bring together the whole market."

Market sources said the idea of a joint conference was discussed prior to the 2003 Biba conference.

The sources said that, in part, pressure to create an industry-wide event was coming from the principal sponsors of the Biba conference - AXA, Groupama, Norwich Union and Royal & SunAlliance (R&SA).

But R&SA UK commercial director Brendan McManus denied it was putting pressure on Biba. He said: "While we're not pushing for it, we can see the benefit of a single conference and would be interested in supporting it."

A Groupama spokesman also denied it was pushing for an industry-wide conference. "Biba has a hugely successful conference.

I wonder whether it would want to give up its independence," he said.

Biba chief executive Eric Galbraith also denied rumours that emerged at this year's conference that he would be stepping down as Biba chief executive.

"I have never taken on a job without agreeing to give 110% commitment," he said. "Over the next few years I hope I will have an opportunity to develop an association that everyone in member firms can be proud to be part of."