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Baron Whitby in Brum: Labour are trying to ‘airbrush me out of history’

Baron Whitby in Brum: Labour are trying to ‘airbrush me out of history’

🕔28.Apr 2014

Birmingham is making a colossal strategic error by turning its back on the party conferences, according to the man who four times brought the Tories to the International Convention Centre.

Lord Mike Whitby, the Conservative leader of the city council between 2004 and 2012, insisted that the annual political gathering triggers the type of positive publicity “that money just can’t buy”.

He was speaking to Chamberlain Files following criticism from Labour over the £1.5 million cost of bringing the Conservative conference to Birmingham later this year. The fee, which allows the NEC Group to offer the ICC to the Tories at a cut price, will swallow up almost all of Marketing Birmingham’s 2014-15 budget for attracting major events.

The 2014 deal was signed by Marketing Birmingham along with arrangements for the 2012 Conservative conference in 2011 at the insistence of Lord Whitby and the council’s then Tory-Liberal Democrat coalition.

Sir Albert Bore, the present Labour council leader, who took over from Lord Whitby in 2012, has made it clear he doesn’t think Birmingham should be bidding in future to host party conferences. He wants Marketing Birmingham and the NEC Group to concentrate instead on industrial and manufacturing-based conventions, particularly from Far Eastern organisations, that could produce spin-off benefits for Birmingham in the form of inward investment and job creation.

Lord Whitby described Sir Albert’s decision as short-sighted.

He said the three Conservative conferences staged in Birmingham so far, in 2008, 2010 and 2012, had each generated about £20 million of economic benefit, attracted 15,000 delegates and hundreds of media representatives from across the world.

He claimed that attempts to rubbish the benefits flowing to Birmingham from the Conservative conferences were part of Labour’s strategy to “airbrush me out of history”.

He said: “When you look at council documents or read the media it’s as if nothing existed before 2012. No credit is given for the way the Conservative-Liberal Democrat progressive partnership set about tackling Birmingham’s appalling image problem and put in place important projects like the transformation of New Street Station.”

Lord Whitby added: “It’s not as if we were writing a cheque to the Conservative Party. It was giving money to the NEC Group, which the council owns anyway.

“The party conferences are undoubtedly one of the most cost-effective ways of bringing influential media to Birmingham and presenting the city in a positive light. Cities like Manchester and Liverpool are actively trying to get the Conservative conference because they understand the importance of generating media attention and attracting the movers and shakers, which is especially true if the party is in government.”

Lord Whitby explained that the 2010 Conservative conference in Birmingham enabled him to hold crucial talks with George Osborne, the Chancellor, which led to the Government approving the refurbishment of New Street Station and the city centre Midland Metro tram extension.

“I am positive that staging the Conservative conference in Birmingham has meant that this city is now regarded more positively with a greater brand appeal. And I don’t recall Sir Albert Bore speaking out against staging the 2014 conference here when the decision was taken by the Marketing Birmingham board, of which he is a member,” Lord Whitby added.

His comments were delivered as the council cabinet approved changes to its contract with Marketing Birmingham ahead of a major shake-up in the relationship with the council next year.

A review conducted by the council concluded that Marketing Birmingham should concentrate on the four key business areas of visitor economy, inward investment, the Birmingham business hub and strategic marketing of the city.

The review found that the “diversity of arrangements in place concerning the planning, investment, monitoring and promotion of major events in the city was sub-optimal and a more cohesive and effective approach should be developed, within the council, to maximise the limited resources available”.

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