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As the tightest general election in living memory enters the final stages, the meetings industry prepares to put its case to the winners. John Keenan reports

General election In the final weeks of the coalition government, the Department for Culture Media and Sport unveiled its strategy for UK events.

It came in the wake of widespread engagement with the events industry and included a series of initiatives set to add long term value to the industry. The report envisaged the creation of a new board for the Business Visits & Events Partnership, (BVEP) comprising industry representation with government departments and agencies. This body will be tasked with identifying business opportunities winning more events for Britain and represents new resources for the events industry to attract events to the country.

Michael Hirst, OBE, chair of the BVEP, told CN: “The challenge is going to be in continuing the momentum whatever administration forms the government. Promoting the events industry will be less of problem if the government has the same complexion as the last coalition. But we need to increase the use of events to drive import and export business. Our report is the culmination of five years’ work and sets out for the new government how to bid for international events using the same dynamic that won the Olympics for London. It also focuses on events in the UK, making our big events better and underlining how events which start small and local have the potential to grow bigger.

“This is a solid blueprint for action whatever party is in power. What is essential is that the industry endorses the support that is now being expressed and works to ensure this momentum is maintained after the election.

“It’s an amazing achievement for the events industry to be finally getting the attention it so richly deserves. We need to support the strategy, and see it through for the good of the industry.”

Perhaps the most formal link between governments and the industry is the IMEX Politicians’ Forum, held in May each year in Frankfurt. The forum welcomes over 100 industry leaders and 30-40 local, regional and national politicians from across the globe.

It is held under the auspices of the Joint Meetings Industry Council (JMIC) and organised by IMEX in collaboration with European Cities Marketing (ECM), and the International Association of Congress Centres (AIPC).

The forum provides an opportunity for meetings industry leaders to meet with government ministers and policy-makers from around the world, with the aim of proving the value of the meetings industry to government and how it translates into economic benefits and business activity, job and tax revenues, with the intent of influencing policies favourable to its continued growth.

A spokesman for the forum said: “The need to remain in the best possible position to identify, bid for and win business events that align with the UK’s national priority areas and better connect industry, academia, government and the private sector should be a clear and powerful call for UK MP’s, city mayors and deputy mayors to share their own successes with their European colleagues and learn from the many excellent case studies and other success stories that are a fundamental part of the forum.

“Several UK MP’s and City Councillors including Nick de Bois, Wendy Simon and John Greenway have been very supportive of the forum in the past. Their experience of sharing case studies and understanding how other countries and cities around the world are quickly recognising the considerable economic and social benefits of hosting meetings and events has proved to be invaluable.”

Nick de Bois, MP in the former coalition and chair of the UK All-Party Parliamentary Group said: “The growth and success of the meetings and events industry is impacted by decisions made within transport, culture, trade and industry departments at all levels. It’s important to understand the true nature and size of this sphere of influence and to recognise that our agenda is our government’s agenda.  This industry can lead economic growth”

Mr Taleb Rifai, secretary general, The World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) said: “In almost every meeting I have with heads of state, prime ministers or ministers, they say: ‘How can we attract more meetings?  How can we become more involved and engaged with the meetings industry?’”

But back in the UK, Rick Stainton, managing director at event agency Smyle, worried that the result of the general election may cause only instability.

He said: “It’s the closest election decades. I think the level of uncertainty could cause serious upset. The experts are predicting the FTSE could fall by 10% if we don’t get a clear result. Ed Miliband has not done enough to convince businesses. The letter that business leaders published in the Daily Telegraph, criticising Labour, was written by our clients at the end of the day. Clients will not have confidence to launch new products and services. If the SNP win 41 seats as predicted they will be able to shape government and do not have the best interests business of England at heart.

“I don’t think UKIP will get anything like the number of seats predicted for that party. But if the Conservatives pursue the referendum on European membership we could be looking at 24 months of uncertainty - that means business is unable to budget for events. My concern is that the industry will stagnate with fewer international events from the UK and fewer events coming into the UK.”

But a Labour party spokesman hit back at the claim that its agenda was bad for business.

He said: “Labour knows that Britain only succeeds when working people and businesses succeed. This means unleashing the potential of British business - including helping small and medium-sized firms to grow and create jobs. Unlike the Tories and their failing plan, Labour recognises the fundamental link between the living standards of everyday working people and our ability to deal with the deficit. 

“Labour will help more people into better paid jobs, with rising wages which will lead to increased tax revenues and lower social security spending. We will balance the books and cut the deficit every year with a surplus on the current budget and falling national debt as soon as possible in the next parliament.

“Labour will back British businesses to invest for the long-term and support smaller businesses to unleash their potential. The next Labour government will maintain the most competitive corporation tax rate in the G7. We will cut and then freeze business rates for small business properties, so that the tax burden on small businesses will be lower than under the Tories. 

Not to be outdone, Matthew Hancock, the minister of state for business and enterprise in the Coalition Government, told CN that red tape has been slashed in over the last four years allowing firms to launch more products and enabling them to plan more events.

He said: “We have the lowest corporation tax of all G20 countries - we have cut it from 28p in the pound to 20p. We pledge to maintain the lowest business tax of any major economy in the world. We will continue to back the UK Trade and Investment initiatives giving expert advice to companies looking to export.”

The Liberal Democrats also put on an events-friendly face in their manifesto, promising a ‘responsible’ approach to reducing the defict by 2018.

Fiona Pelham, managing director at Sustainable Events, said: “I want the meetings industry to start measuring its environmental impact more effectively. Imagine if every government event had to report on its recycling and waste management. Events are a tool for business growth, help support regional development and can enhance cultural awareness and social cohesion. 

Sustainability considerations in planning, delivery and legacy mean that the impact of aspects like travel to events and waste produced by events can be planned for and minimised. There are leaders in best practice, but it is not yet as widespread as it needs to be for the UK to maintain a globally leading position in sustainable events.”

A spokeswoman for the Green party said: “Unfortunately, we don’t have the capacity to provide specific responses to your questions at the moment. However, the Green Party website contains lots of information about our longer term aspirations.”

This feature was first published in the May issue of Conference News.

Any comments? Email: John Keenan

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