Exhibiting the party line

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Ahead of the General Election, the three main political parties offered policies affecting the events industry to varying degrees. Exhibition News shines a light on the politicians’ promises and postures.The UK’s event industry is not a sector that gets much oxygen in the manifestos of the top three parties. Unsurprisingly, the issue is knocked way down the agenda by fundamental issues including the NHS, education and immigration.So we approached the top three for comment, flagging up the industry’s £22bn worth, and our readership of leading industry professionals. Labour addressed our request for comment with a policy statement, the Tories’ taskforce report on business events and tourism provided plenty of detail on their view and approach to the industry. There’s little scope for Cleggmania on these pages, however, as without direct comment forthcoming from the Lib-Dems, we had to dip into the party manifesto, which turned out to be a little thin on relevant policy.Nonetheless, Business Visits and Events Partnership (BVEP) chairman, Michael Hirst OBE, describes the manifestos as “encouraging” on the whole, with “a recognition of the importance of events to the economy”.The BVEP is set to issue its own industry-wide manifesto to the new government and parliament ahead of an event and presentation of the events sector for new MPs at the House of Commons on 20 October.A Labour view“Labour took action to support businesses during the global downturn. The recovery is fragile. Immediate cuts in spending – as the Tories advocate - would choke off that recovery,” claims Labour.“We will halve the deficit over four years. Of course, there will be tough choices. And we are ready to make the decisions to cut costs, inefficiencies, unnecessary programmes and lower priority budgets. But we recognise that the best way of tackling the deficit is through economic growth.“Economic recovery will be driven by firms and individuals across the whole economy, competing in a diverse range of sectors and markets – including the events industry. We believe it is critical therefore to equip them with the support they need.“It is not an option for the UK to simply stand aside and allow other countries to capture these rapidly expanding markets. We will need to attract inward investors and buyers for what the UK sells. The UK events industry will have a central role to play in this in showcasing the UK.“Our investment in the industries of the future, such as low carbon, biotechnology, advanced bioscience and cutting edge advanced manufacturing will make Britain a global leader – bringing with it foreign investment.“The UK has the lowest barriers to entrepreneurship of all OECD countries and last year was ranked fifth in the world by the World Bank for ‘ease of doing business’.  We will make further progress in cutting the costs of regulation on growing businesses, especially the smallest.  “Labour will create an enterprise environment that gives active support to those who wish to start their own business. The Flying Start programme will give 8,000 final year university students and graduates the chance to meet successful young business owners. We will ensure that innovative businesses can access the finance they need to grow, for example, by establishing the Growth Capital Fund, which will support small and medium-sized businesses. “We believe that maintaining a strong science and research base is essential so that this knowledge can be transformed into innovative new products. We are committed to strengthening our physical and digital infrastructure so that every part of Britain benefits.”Conservatives call in the Tourism TaskforceThe BVEP’s Michael Hirst was part of a Tory taskforce invited to produce a special report, UK Tourism in a Competitive World, which could form a blueprint for the Conservatives’ approach to business tourism. The brief from taskforce chairman JHJ Lewis was to “find a recipe that unleashes the vibrancy of our historic cities and market towns that preserves our magnificent heritage, that celebrates our rolling countryside and revives our coastal resorts – not for the ephemera of yesterday’s memories but for the hard cash of tomorrow’s economy”. The Conservative claim is that the UK has failed to capitalise on the growth in the international market for tourism. “Change must be embraced and new technology harnessed,” the party states. The taskforce says unprecedented foreign competition and more accessible air travel have led to Britain’s market share for business tourism being eroded. “This can’t just be put down to ‘the weather’,” they claim in the report, adding that the “sheer volume of the burden of taxation and regulation and its growth over the last decade, is “caging a British lion that could so easily roar”. It adds that the industry has recently had important allowances, not least Hotel Building Allowances, curtailed or removed within a tax system that is, overall, ever more complex, and ever more expensive to comply with. “Customers for the industry have fared no better: more expensive visas and higher Air Passenger Duty for inbound visitors, and onerous levels of general taxation for domestic tourists.”    Big sums spent on developing policy by VisitBritain is work, the taskforce says, that properly belongs at the DCMS, led by a Minister for Tourism. David Cameron’s three key tests for assessing the viability of non-departmental public bodies include the need for distributing resources in an impartial manner, making assessments independent of Government, and carrying out technical matters that require expertise for the implementation of Government policy. VisitBritain qualifies under the first criterion, according to the taskforce. Both VisitBritain and VisitEngland, the Conservatives believe, should concentrate on their core functions and do more to maximise marketing spending from their budgets.   Visa charges levied by the Government should be reviewed, the report recommends, and mobile biometrics be made available, possibly at premium cost, for business and special event travellers who do not wish to travel to a visa centre.On the issue of transport, the Conservatives endorse a High Speed Rail Network connecting London with Edinburgh and Cardiff as a medium term priority.  The taskforce also advises any Conservative Government to consider advancing the United Kingdom to Central European Time.The Lib Dem viewThe Liberal Democrats believe that the arts are a central part of civic and community life. “Britain’s culture and heritage play a vital role in attracting visitors to the UK and boosting the very important tourism industry. We will foster an environment in which all forms of creativity are able to flourish.“We are proud that Britain is hosting the Olympic and Paralympic Games in 2012, and we support bids for other high-profile events such as the 2018 World Cup – but we believe that grassroots sport is just as important. “Liberal Democrats will set up a Creative Enterprise Fund, offering training, mentoring and small grants or loans to help creative businesses get off the ground.”
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