James Heappey MP opened a key industry briefing at Central Hall Westminster, 2 November, by urging UK event industry leaders to raise their concerns with government via concerted lobbying together in tandem with representatives of the wider visitor economy, for maximum effect.
Heappey acknowledged a “change of tone” in the industry since the 23 June EU referendum, noting: “The problem is the industry wants certainty and is collectively concerned about where the future workforce will come from,” he said and pinpointed a major concern as to how the events sector could continue to get access to migrant labour without open borders.
Heappy was one of three industry political heavyweights who briefed a select audience of events industry leaders gathered to hear the latest reports from the Events are GREAT Britain campaign at Central Hall last night (2 November).
Heappey said concern over visas and Europeans continuing to be able to get into the country easily, post-Brexit, as well as continued smooth access to supply chains and sorting out tariff issues, were the other big issues to concentrate on in any messages the industry sent to government.
“Share these three areas of concern with the entire visitor economy,” Heapey advised. “If the industry speaks as one, it will be impossible for government to turn its back on it.”
He also stressed that as a West Country MP, he, along with many other regionally based professionals, took umbrage at the terms of debate over the Heathrow airport runway issue being presented as a ‘London’ issue. “It is not London’s airport, but the nation’s,” he asserted.
He urged the events industry to target and hone its campaign focus and said spending time on lobbying against VAT on tourism was possibly too vague a plan, whereas concentrating on lobbying against VAT on tourism accommodation was a smarter and more productive action.
The MP and chairman of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for events also added there were “great opportunities” to sell the country and its events potential with a bit of style and would chime in with plans of secretary of state for international trade, Liam Fox. “Events,” Heappey said, “are an example of our soft power.”
Also addressing the 50-strong gathering at Central Hall were former APPG chair and current chair of the Events Industry Board (EIB), Nick de Bois.
The EIB had no executive power, de Bois reminded the audience, but said “it is there to advise government how to make the events sector the best”.
“It is crucial we leverage the soft power of government to win big events we have a chance of hosting in the UK,” de Bois added and said he believed the UK industry could do “much better than our competitors”, but was currently not doing so.
“We have to access the full set of tools, he noted, including rolling out the support of ministers. “We need to demonstrate how hungry we are for what [events] can do for Britain and to help us achieve commercial success,” he said.
De Bois gave the example of government backing for last year’s European Society of Cardiologists which brough a 10,000-delegate conference to London, but added: “We can do so much more.”
De Bois claimed the EIB had been doing a lot of preparatory work to identify future opportunities for the industry but had no quick results to report one year on from the board’s formation. “We have to harness the partnership between industry and government,” he noted, and acknowledged there were barriers in areas of policy-making, such as visa policy and airports, to overcome. He promised more “evidence based work” would be undertaken.
VisitBritain’s business visits and events head, Chris Foy, rounded off the evening’s presentations, by telling the audience the national agency had rebuilt its team and taken the first steps in developing a marketing plan “to put Britain at the forefront of the global events market”.
He identified two strands of future work for his team:
First, he said, was sustaining demand for Britain and here the initial focus would be on the North American and European markets. Second, would be a push to support events bids that were strategically important to the economy.
Foy did not say exactly which sectors would be targeted or go into detail on any new subvention funding, but stressed the need for his agency to be accountable to government for its investment into the new campaign.
“I hope to talk more tangibly about events we’re supporting next time,” he said.