How the government stole £3 billion from the West Midlands’ economy

Natalka Antoniuk talks about the crisis in the events industry.

Coronavirus has swept across the globe devastating lives and livelihoods for the best part of a year. This is serious and, although I understand the frustrations with the latest announcement, we must do what we can to keep our population safe.
That being said, our government need to do more to support those who have been excluded from support plans.

Some industries are thriving (I’m talking to you Andrex). Others have had no work, or income, since March. Businesses operating in hospitality, retail, events, travel and tourism industries have reported struggles.

The government had planned for this. The furlough scheme allowed employers to claim 80% of wages. Loans, tax relief and cash grants were made available. The government launched schemes like Eat Out to Help Out to encourage spending and boost consumer confidence.

But many businesses and workers were excluded. Business owners are doing what they must to survive. According to the Financial Times, almost 750,000 people have already lost their jobs. With the furlough scheme ending in October and the latest restrictions set to be in place for six months, we are expecting the worst.

The events industry is arguably the hardest hit. They were the first to close and will be the last to reopen. A restart date came with a sigh of relief as thousands of event planners, suppliers and venues went back to work. Last night, that glimmer of hope and optimism was ripped from beneath our feet.

My company Quadrant2Designdesign and build exhibition stands at trade shows and business events. Every day we hear of another show being postponed. We have already had to make difficult choices and are prepared to make more if we can’t access support.
The event industry contributes £70 billion to the UK economy, half of which comes from business events. The industry boasts 700,000 skilled full-time employees. But, relies upon the expertise of hundreds of thousands of freelancers to make your events happen. Millions of people have been unable to work since March.

Despite these facts, the events industry was (mostly) excluded from Rishi Sunak’s billion-pound handout. I say mostly because Sunak did make £1.57 billion available to cultural, arts and heritage institutions meaning a handful of our venues got support. Not all of them.

The NEC was at the forefront of the Covid-19 pandemic. The venue closed its doors in March, along with the rest of the events industry. However, just over two weeks later they reopened their doors as a 500-bed NHS Nightingale Hospital. The hospital, provided to the NHS rent-free, was ready to take the pressure off and allow existing hospitals to focus on patients that required intensive care. Matt Hancock commended the NEC for their speed and efficiency. VisitBritain awarded the Outstanding Contribution to Tourism award to the entire business events industry for their offering.

Yet the business events industry remains closed. And has not been offered any additional support following yesterday’s announcement and the impending end of the furlough scheme.

What has this got to do with the West Midlands? Because in just under three weeks, the NEC executives will begin consulting on a staff restructure which will almost certainly lead to hundreds of job losses. The NEC Group own and operate:
• National Exhibition Centre
• Resorts World Arena
• International Convention Centre
• Utilita Arena
• The Ticket Factory

In an average year, the company has an annual turnover of approximately £160 million. They employ 2,900 members of staff and support a further 29,000 jobs associated with their supply chain.

Each year they host around 750 events, welcoming seven million visitors. In total, it is estimated that the NEC Group contribute £3 billion a year to the West Midlands economy. This year, the have reported “almost zero” revenue since mid-March.

After offering their largest venue to the NHS, the NEC Group found themselves excluded from Sunak’s £1.5 billion support package for the culture sector. With no events allowed to take place until April 2021, the executives have no choice but to restructure the business.

This, of course, puts thousands of jobs at risk. Furthermore, without additional government support, the West Midlands risks losing this business altogether. The effects that the closure of the NEC and associated businesses could have on the area are detrimental.

Almost one-quarter of visitors do so for business purposes. The money they spend does not go to the event organisers, suppliers or venues. It goes into the local economy. It goes into the hotels, B&B’s, cafes, bars, shops and restaurants. The NEC contributes more than business events to the West Midlands.

As well as devastating increasing to unemployment in the area, by forgetting the business events industry, our government has cost the West Midlands £3 billion annual investment in the local economy.

It is time for the event industry to stand up and be heard. We have spent our careers backstage but now Sunak must recognise that we exist. Excluding us from any additional support packages won’t just affect our livelihoods. It will cost communities billions. The news that the NEC are thinking about job cuts must not set a precedence for the industry.

To survive, we need:
• Grants – not loans – made available to businesses in the events supply chain
• Furlough scheme extension until the industry is back to work
• Extension of the self-employment scheme, tailored towards the industry

And remember, we make events for people like you. Yes, we love our jobs. But we were more than happy to step aside and offer our venues and our suppliers to help during the first wave. Now we need help. You miss events. We miss our income. #WeMakeEvents