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Open letter: government continues to ignore £70bn events industry

Neill Hendry, general manager at event management company Chill Out! got in touch with Conference News and sister title Conference & Meetings World to share an open letter outlining his frustration with the government's lack of action to save events businesses during this time of crisis. In the letter, dated 20 April, Hendry notes that the government has failed to understand the events industry's value to UK economy; worth £70bn prior to the Covid-19 pandemic leading to an imposed banning of gatherings and lockdown restrictions.

Hendry goes on to illustrate how grave the situation has become, which for his business has seen a drop from £6m to zero in the space of a few weeks. All events businesses will report loss of revenue.

Most notably, Hendry observes that the events industry will be in lockdown for far longer than other industries, meaning further government support is required to keep the vital industry alive so that, through events, it can help other sectors rebuild the national - and global - economy.

The letter in full:

As the general manager of a medium-size event management company that has been running for 16 years, and established a strong, profitable business employing nine people plus subcontractors, I wanted to express frustration over the current situation with the government support being offered, and the apparent lack of understanding of the longer-term impact on this valuable sector [events industry] for the UK economy.

Event management companies are the project management link between corporate clients wishing to run events, exhibitions and hospitality, and the customer facing points of delivery, and as such are one of the primary bookers of event and hospitality venues, hotels and restaurants.

At the start of March 2020, our order book was cancelled, completely. With all clients needing to socially distance we have virtually no future confirmed business in sight. To go from a £6m company to zero has been a bombshell. We have furloughed the majority of our staff from, 1 April, taking advantage of the government’s Job Retention Scheme (it was either this or redundancy for all staff) and fortunately, with this help, we have sufficient cash in the business to continue.

However, this is the only support for which we qualify. We are not a small company and so do not qualify for rates relief, we are not included in the government classification of retail, hospitality or event venues, despite these being our primary business partners, so do not qualify for the sector specific £25,000 grant. We have a good business employing excellent people with strong relationships with our clients and suppliers. All are sympathetic to our plight, but sympathy will not pay the bills.

Our major concern, however, is not the immediate level of support being offered, although this is of course vital, it is about the scope and duration of the support on offer when we consider how long it will take for the event industry to get back up to speed and start providing business for the hospitality and event companies that the government has rightly identified as a sector being severely impacted by the crisis.

Unless there are event management companies who can survive the crisis, and several months beyond (as customer confidence to hold events will only return slowly), then the venues, hotels and restaurants which rely on the business we provide, will be missing a major source of their business. Despite the government’s targeted support for the event and hospitality sector, if the event management business does not survive many of the venues will go under as soon as the government support stops.

There is much discussion about a lockdown exit strategy right now, but not much discussion of a re-entry strategy for those business sectors who have been hardest hit. Unless this is recognised and planned carefully we will see the worst impact on our sector of the economy after the lockdown has ended. Business flow is not like a tap that can be turned back on and suddenly all is well. The supply chain and support businesses need to be intact when the crisis ends, or all the government support will have been in vain.

We have a strong business and want to bounce back, but we need understanding and help to be able to get the sector economy flowing again for those further down the line who rely on our business for theirs to be successful.

Neill Hendry, general manager, Chill Out!

Main image: ©UK Parliament/Jessica Taylor