BVEP - Business Visits and Events Partnership

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Let’s Google It!

By Simon Hughes, Vice Chair BVEP

The good news that Google are planning to go ahead with an estimated £1bn in extra investment in the UK – including a new headquarters and 3,000 new jobs – has been widely and warmly welcomed. Sundar Pichai, Google’s Chief Executive, was at pains to point out that despite the outcome of the Brexit vote they still view the UK as an attractive place to do business because it was open and connected and had a healthy marketplace in scientists.


Obviously this development has been seized on by the pro-Brexit brigade as vindication of the merits of forging a new future for us as a global trading nation, ignoring the fact that we have been a global trading nation for many centuries now. But let’s not worry about that – this is indeed good news. However the irony of an Indian born emigrant that now lives and works in the USA pointing out the value of a nation being open and connected after recent events in the States was not lost on me. It throws into sharp relief the real challenges that face us as we set about forging our ‘new’ role in the world.

It is clear that there is a ground swell of popular opinion both here and in the USA that the impact of globalisation and disconnect between the political class and the needs and aspirations of hundreds and thousands of ordinary working people has created an unprecedented shift in opinion and power. Where that is going to take us as yet remains very unclear. The recent publication of the BVEP Events Industry Referendum Impact Survey identifies uncertainty as the biggest single concern for our industry – something we share with pretty much every other business category in the UK. So what can we learn from the Google announcement when it comes to framing the action we need to take to mitigate this uncertainty and ensure that our members thrive and prosper in the new world order?

Firstly we are where we are – in a world where Brexit means Brexit even if no-one actually knows what that really looks like. We can choose to make our own certainty by moving forward with plans that create value, offer new opportunities and demonstrate confidence. Secondly we can focus on the drivers that our businesses will need to succeed and then see how they align with the key negotiating positions being taken by the Government. For Google this translates into the UK being open, connected and having a strong pool of talent to fish in.

If we model our business needs in similar terms we can sense check where the really key issues lie. If being a nation that is open is a key driver in terms of the talent that we need to work with and creating diverse teams to meet the challenge of increased global competition is an essential feature of our future success, it is almost inevitable that we will be supporting the free movement of people in some form. This is perhaps where the Google play comes into its own. Having warmly welcomed the news of their commitment to UK plc, it is a little awkward if that commitment is actually predicated on some fairly fundamental issues such as us being “open and connected.” As part of the broader creative industries sector we may need to get creative around these kinds of issues.
Under the widely supported headline of keeping our tax and regulation system competitive we may well need to identify the kind of talent that we need and then figure out a way that they could gain access to the UK through new and innovative arrangements. It’s clear if we look at the current visa and entry regulations, the challenge of trying to recruit young gifted programmers from abroad to support the needs of the digital marketplace in the UK is really hard. We need to work with the government to co-create entry requirements that recognise the fluid (and often freelance) nature of the talent we work with across so many areas of our operations.

Equally if we foresee a reduction in the seasonal overseas labour market that supports so many elements of the extended supply chain that we rely on to produce, process, prepare and serve the food that we consume in venues, hotels, at festivals and in meeting spaces across the UK we may need to get creative around proposing solutions that don’t just focus on the challenge. The opportunity here might encompass designing new training programmes or changing existing benefit arrangements to create a more flexible work pool to select from. We could use innovative sharing techniques to encourage job share/split programmes that target young unemployed parents and matches them to specific day parts that work around child care needs – look I’m making this stuff up as I write it but hopefully you get the gist.

We will need to collaborate, be creative and focus on solutions. I don’t think we are asking anyone to set out their negotiating positions now – but we will need to get our arguments and evidence aligned and be ready to advocate on the key issues for the events industry whilst supporting others in the broader business ecosystem that have louder voices and the same shared concerns as us. Let's Google it and see what happens.