BVEP - Business Visits and Events Partnership

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BVEP Partners Update w/c 21st September 2020

By Simon Hughes, BVEP Chair - After the wave of gloom that overtook vast sections of the UK events industry as a result of the latest government rule of six announcement – and the subsequent confusion in relation to the actual impact on permitted event activity – it is perhaps time to regroup and refocus on the ups rather than the downs. One event that certainly lifted spirits across both the UK and further afield was the UKickstart Event 2020 hosted by etc.venues and supported by a number of our partners. This hybrid event linked 12 hubs nationwide with live audiences of 30 and many hundreds more virtually. Although it felt like a slim downed version of Eurovision, with glamorous hosts joining us from the ICC Belfast and Farnborough (nice jacket Carlo), the two main panel sessions hosted by Martin Fullard and Calum Di Lieto were well received, judging by the response on social channels.

It was great to see how many people enjoyed the opportunity to get out and go somewhere and, even within the very thorough social distancing measures followed by everyone, see and meet colleagues from across the industry for a few hours. It was a good example of demonstrating that meeting in Covid-19 secure venues might feel odd at first but can be delivered in a way that enables the positive, personal connections and experiences that virtual will never ever be able to replicate. Congratulations to the etc.venues team and the tenacious Adam Simpson for bringing it all together. Thanks too are due to Nigel Huddlestone MP, Minister for Sport, Tourism and Heritage for his ringing endorsement that the event industry “has a real voice in government.”

The very next day the PM announced the Rule of Six. Given his fondness for all things Winston S. Churchill we might as an industry offer him the following advice from his hero, taken from volume seven of Churchill’s ‘The Second World War’. “There is no worse mistake in public leadership than to hold out false hopes soon to be swept away. The British people can face peril or misfortune with fortitude and buoyancy, but they bitterly resent being deceived or finding that those responsible for their affairs are themselves dwelling in a fool’s paradise.” The fact that at the time of writing we are 9 days into waiting for the further clarifications promised by the PM in relation to re-opening conference centres and exhibition halls on 1st October sends all the wrong signals to the event industry, our clients and buyers and prospective visitors, guests and delegates.

In contrast our message has been clearly delivered at two meetings held last week. Michael continues his sterling work on our behalf and attended the Visitor Economy Working Group on the 15th September. He reported to the DCMS that buyer and organiser confidence has been severely knocked since the announcement on the 9th September. He was able to support this with the rapid turnaround survey results produced by the MIA with their customary alacrity – for which many thanks! Organised over the weekend this survey of meeting venues indicated that 76.5% have had event cancellations averaging over £10,000 per event with 10% of the cancellations being worth £50,000 per event. Only 22% of the event organisers that responded are clear about the new capacity guidelines.

Michael also highlighted the need for some form of a government backed insurance indemnity scheme which would allow organisers to take the significant investment risk of staging events that can be cancelled at short notice. He tabled our latest estimates for the impact on business events which indicate that very little event activity will take place in Quarter 4 leading to a further loss of £3.3 billion on top of the already lost £24.40 billion. When we add in the estimated £55 billion loss endured by the outdoor sector so far this year these numbers are appalling. Not as appalling as the individual stories of real hardship and despair from many highly experienced, skilled and dedicated event professionals that have had no income or effective support since March.

Meanwhile this is all happening whilst exhibitions and conferences have restarted in Germany, France, Austria, Switzerland, China and Malaysia with sizeable recovery measures announced for Holland, Italy, the Emirates and Australia. The UK event industry has run pilot events that have shown that we can deliver COVID Secure events, but once again the constantly changing situation is conspiring against us.

The Senior Leaders Advisory Panel also met last week, facilitated by the Event Industry Board, providing an opportunity for both the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Oliver Dowden and Nigel Huddlestone MP, Minister for Sport, Tourism and Heritage to hear from a cross section of industry leaders representing both venues and agencies. When we say cross we should really be saying furious, but in that tightly controlled British way where we are all very polite to each other despite the deluge of disaster falling on our heads. Once again it was the numbers that made the most impact, supported as usual by passionate pleas that we are here to help the recovery, if only given the opportunity to get going. Time and timing is now of the essence. We will be reaching out to all partners this week in order to make our case using data and numbers being requested by HMG to ensure that the economic impact that we generate and the support we will require to deliver that is clearly identified.

A Cautionary Tale
In the last update (and in many discussions held last week) the last minute cancellation of the Southampton Boat Show featured widely. This is a development that we need to bring to the attention of all our partners and finds us on the horns of a real dilemma. On behalf of the BVEP we have been in close conversations with the EIF about the implications of this ruling. Basically the issue is this: an organiser, following the COVID 19 secure guidance produced by the EIF for outdoor events and working closely with the local Safety Advisory Group (SAG), was suddenly told with no prior warning that the Director of Public Health at Southampton City Council had determined that the event could not take place as planned.

This was the day before it was due to open; the drastic consequences for everyone involved are obvious to all of us working in the event industry. That decision has subsequently been upheld by the Minister of State Nadine Dorries MP. DCMS ministers also confirmed that this was a local decision that overrode the guidance they had produced for such events. So while we are all committed to following the guidance we have helped produce and delivering the clear message to our clients and buyers that we are confident that our events will be secure and safe, we need to note that the public health concerns currently appear to be able to override the protocols, processes and guidance we have all been adhering too.

Traditionally Local Authorities have always been very risk adverse and given the rise in the numbers of Coronavirus cases across the UK, the local lockdown measures that have recently been put in place in a number of different regions affecting 13.5 million people and the debate about another national lockdown as a second wave develops, the arrival of a circuit break moment will come as no surprise. So the question for all of us in the event industry now is do we hold to our belief that we can still organise events in Q4 following the agreed and approved guidance whilst risking intervention from local health officials or should we advise that this risk, beyond our control, makes organising certain types of events untenable?

One approach would be to revert to the foundation stone of the event planning process by using the risk assessment and management process to identify both the local R rate and the local director of public health. Accountability is frequently a by-product of active knowledge and engagement about an issue, so as well as working with the SAG seek the advice and viewpoint of the person responsible for public health. This could lead to much clearer decision making in a timely fashion without costing so much money for businesses already struggling to cope with Covid-19.

One Industry One Voice
The latest campaign update has just been released and you can find that here - A really positive good news story for these confusing times!

Diversity & Inclusivity Workshop
Despite the controlled chaos of daily updates and speculation sweeping around at the moment we are really pleased that we can actually end with some really positive, up-beat news. Caroline Jackson has been quietly working away on diversity and inclusion and last week saw over 60 people gather on-line for a two hour workshop expertly led by Rob Hopkins. Using the Axis workshop platform, a really effective tool for capturing ideas and themes, Caroline has now collated seven key themes for discussion at the next session, which will focus on ideas for action for the BVEP, our partners and the invited members of the workshop. Many thanks to Caroline and Rob, Richard Waddington as our co-host and everyone else who contributed on the day. Inspiring stuff when inspiration is currently in short supply.