We Brits like a bit of self-flagellation, but the shooting down of quangos by the dozen and swingeing cuts in public spending appears to be meekly accepted across the board as just another necessary budget cut.
A quango – or quasi-autonomous non-governmental organisation to give it its proper name – is an agency such as the UK Film Council or Visit London. Somehow government PR has helped to make them about as popular as Fabio Capello.
Quangos are not some mad animal, rampaging around gobbling up taxpayers’ money and the abolition of them will not miraculously ward off the threat of double-dip recession.
Regional development authorities will go in the bonfire of the quangos. From next year councils and local businesses are being encouraged to team up to form Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs), although there is very little detail yet for those wishing to become LEPers. They are certain, however, to change the RDA spots.
Most RDAs had a track record assisting venues, destinations and organisers to attract conference business, as well as supporting a range of activities vital to our industry, such as conference bureaus, participation at trade shows and – dare we mention it – subvention in some form.
Every pound spent by RDAs generated a return of around £4.50 for regional economies.
Chief executive of the Forum of Private Business, Phil Orford, said companies valued the human resources, lending, procurement and legal advice funded by RDAs. “Business owners need certainty about what public-sector business support will be available and how it will be delivered,” he said.
Subvention, of course, for those not getting it, is a bit of a dirty word, but many of RDAs provided a service here that can make the difference between a big international association congress coming to Liverpool, London or Birmingham, rather than Amsterdam, Berlin or Paris.
While there is undoubtedly government waste in abundance, should our political leaders be taking pot shots at valuable agencies with little detail on anything to replace them, at a time when government conference and training programmes are being frozen wholesale?
Meetings industry professionals know the value that is being destroyed, as P&MM’s Nigel Cooper eloquently puts it (CN August, ‘Public sector cuts could be worse than the recession for venues’). It seems we are to hope that the likes of leaders of provincial haulage companies or regional entrepreneurs are going to miraculously coalesce to sponsor their local conference centre or bureau in place of development agencies. The government and City Hall’s previous answer to demands for a West End of London ICC by shuffling responsibility onto the hotels to cough up, shows we should not believe in such ‘head in the clouds’ thinking.
The 300-plus redundancies at Advantage West Midlands; the real possibility of a shrunken and merged Visit London/Visit Britain, and the demise of the North West Development Agency (which did so much to help Lancashire Cricket Club realise its brave new facility, The Point) are signs of things to come. David Cameron may want Britain to become one of the top five tourist destinations in the world, but oak trees need acorns, not axes.
At least we are learning how to give politicians a piece of our meetings industry mind and lobby more effectively. The BVEP’s Michael Hirst finally got through the new ministerial door frame and great things are expected from the meeting with MPs at the House of Commons in October. David Cameron also noticed tourism in a set piece speech recently.
Taking the axe to quangos, willy-nilly, also threatens an independent system for monitoring the work of government, both local and national, and supporting our venues, destination and meetings business. We need a well-funded Visit London and VisitBritain and other regional tourist boards, and if the RDAs are to go, then something more visionary than an association of shopkeepers must take their place if we are to be serious in our support not just for the events industry, but for all industries.