By former MP Nick De Bois
I was recently asked why I had wanted to become a Member of Parliament before the 2010 election. Put simply, I felt it was time for me to move on from being just a cross between a commentator and an armchair critic of government (of any persuasion), and instead try to shape and influence outcomes that mattered. Since leaving parliament in 2015, I don’t take any different view now, which is one of the reasons I was happy to assume the role of chair for the new UK Events Industry Board.
Having enjoyed a long career in the events industry starting and running my own business, all too often I would lament the lack of support from government for the business tourism sector, its lack of understanding for what we contributed in jobs, in taxes and in reputational standing through the respect that the UK events sector commands across the world.
Above all, I regretted the perceived lost opportunity for Britain’s wider economic benefit that could be achieved, should the events sector be able to work in partnership with government. Simply lamenting this state of affairs was not enough, which is why the present opportunity we have with the renewed commitment of this government to harness the power of the events sector, to help the UK achieve its full potential through increased inward investment and export sales, is an extraordinary one and one which I hope the events sector will grab with both hands.
For the first time that I can recall, government is now playing its part with the strategy and funding to support the sector and help it win new events and congresses for the entire UK, and support those existing ones that have the ambition and ability to become leading international events in their own right, staged here in the UK. Publication of how this will work in practice is due next month and is evidence of this renewed government commitment, encouraged and driven by the industry itself.
Since January, the Department for Culture Media & Sport (DCMS) and the new UK Events Industry Board have been working together and forging ahead with its plans. VisitBritain is back on board with business visits & events, and has launched the Events are GREAT campaign, to great acclaim, with further funding and resources.
Meanwhile the Business Visits & Events Partnership (BVEP) and its many partners are doing great work on research into subvention and what influences international buyers into choosing event destinations. And they are not just working alone. All these groups come together on the Events Industry Board, along with industry experts and regional tourism agencies to help forge an integrated response that is focused on helping win new business events for the UK. That of course is good for Britain and good for the events sector.
Events have so much to offer UK plc. They support the industrial strategy of the UK by positioning Britain as a centre of commerce and attracting companies and industries to do business in our country. They are also an ever-increasing export opportunity as they grow into new territories, creating inward investment opportunities, selling UK skills, expertise and products abroad.
As an industry, events lead to the employment of over 570,000 people from apprenticeship level upwards. They stimulate thought leadership through the sharing of knowledge, research and intelligence that progresses scientific and technological understanding and innovation. They also bring communities together, whether they are united by a common geography, interest, cause or belief. Finally, events attract international audiences to this country. People who buy our products and services and in many cases return with their families, boosting and complimenting the UK tourism industry. To do that we must not let Britain become simply a destination for national events, but a major competitor at an international level and that is what government and industry can jointly achieve by working together.
Now is the time for the whole industry to get behind everything we are doing and support this work for the benefit of the entire events sector, and by doing so help the wider UK economy. As a sector we should recognise that government is playing its part, and now it’s time for us to do the same. By staying engaged in the long-term process of the work that is being done to support the sector, the outcomes will inevitably be that much stronger. When the call for applications to seek government support to win the hosting of international conferences is made, I hope the industry will respond energetically at every level.
Without that engagement, we stand far less chance of success. Individually you can support that work by attending the growing number of events and discussions on those topics over the coming months and make your voice heard. I hope this new sense of commitment will encourage you to become a passionate advocate and champion for your industry.
The 16 members of the board are themselves ambassadors for the events sector and will always seek to meet and discuss the ongoing work of the Events Industry Board, and I hope you will not hesitate to invite us to contribute to your events and to this vitally important work.
After all, the time for lamenting lack of government action is now past, it’s time for action and we all need to step onto the stage and play our part.