BVEP - Business Visits and Events Partnership

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Post Election Blues?

By Simon Hughes - I had the pleasure of attending a reception for the outgoing Cabinet Secretary Sir Gus O'Donnell shortly before the last General Election in 2010. Sir Robert Armstrong, one of his eminent predecessors, was in particularly effusive form as he praised him for the work undertaken to prepare for the new government.

Specifically the Cabinet Office had managed to bring together a detailed 'play book' that looked at all the possible permutations that might come into being once the electorate had cast their votes. The c word was in the air – coalition. The manner in which the subsequent transition to form a new government was handled by the British Civil Service has become a text book example of how to manage such moments.

So what will happen this time around? More importantly what will the impact be for all of us working in the events sector? Firstly the play books being prepared across Whitehall this time around will have to be really robust, because the outcome is so uncertain. Hours will have been spent combing through all the party manifestos to pick out the policy areas department by department so that the teams awaiting the arrival of their new political masters have a reasonable grasp of the priorities and policies that they might be asked to implement.

If you line them all up there are common themes that will impact on the events sector in the broadest sense. Many of these relate to the prosaic business of doing business – so help for small and medium size enterprises figures in a number of ways, from promises about reforming business rates to the national roll out of broadband. Zero hours contracts are mentioned by all the parties, as are pledges about infrastructure projects to improve road, rail and flights – although opinions on the need for a new runway in the South East vary. All the major parties focus on tourism as a major employer and economic contributor, with a variety of nods towards elevating the creative industries in one form or another. The seaside towns do well generally as targets for improvement and support. Visas also feature but with quite different takes from across the political spectrum that I'll leave you to guess at.

So far, so what? As Lao Tzu, the 6th century BC Chinese poet wrote, "Those who have knowledge, don't predict. Those who predict, don't have knowledge." What I do know is that recent marketing surveys show an increase in confidence from the business sector. Yet surely that confidence is dependent on the circumstances the nation finds itself in post May? There are without doubt lots of problems to tackle and one way of doing that would be to have a strong, confident majority government in place. Then we could focus on the core issues of the economy, foreign policy, the National Health Service and education. Yet lurking behind all of this is the fundamental point of political difference this campaign has thrown into sharp relief – how best to deal with the deficit.

I've seen the ashen faces of people working in government that deal with finance. It doesn't matter who gets in – they are saying that the cuts that are planned in the public sector will be harder and deeper than anything we've seen so far. If this can be done without damaging service delivery perhaps confidence will sustain in the real world of business. What I can't see is a patchwork of parties being able to agree on how best to achieve this and unfortunately that stumbling, stuttering kind of approach is not one that inspires confidence in the long term. Sorry – but that is the way it feels at the moment. If however there is some seismic shift in public opinion that no-one has predicted and we do end up with a majority government then the events sector should focus on the economic impact that our businesses create. This is not only where the greatest need for the nation rests but it is also where the mood music we've heard ahead of the election from the DCMS suggests that our voice might find itself in most harmony moving forward.

This is something that the BVEP can be claim much credit for, because although the political masters might be playing musical chairs, the teams of civil servants that are pondering what the future might hold are the ones that we've engaged with effectively and persuaded of the genuine merits of the case we've put forward for the events sector. They understand our contribution and the certainty of strong partners in the commercial world are always welcomed by those planning for the future. Just look at the numbers the AIF released recently demonstrating the cultural and economic impact of independent festivals – an estimated contribution of £1bn over a 4 year period. Now there's a song worth singing!