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Birmingham to get off party conferences ‘treadmill’

Birmingham to get off party conferences ‘treadmill’

🕔11.Oct 2012

The leader of Birmingham City Council doubts whether staging party political conferences at the ICC delivers any long lasting economic benefit and has ordered a re-examination of the way public money is used to subsidise major events.

Sir Albert Bore said he believed it would be a better use of scarce funds to pay for a  range of conferences connected with the economic growth areas Birmingham is seeking to exploit – life sciences, medicine, digital and new media and sports.

Speaking after the end of the Conservative conference at the ICC, Sir Albert said the council had to “get off the treadmill” of constantly battling with other cities for the right to stage the annual party gatherings.

It is believed that the council paid about £1.5 million to bring the Conservatives to the ICC – a spending decision taken by Birmingham’s former Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition. Other costs to the public purse include a substantial bill for police presence during the four-day gathering.

Sir Albert, who took over as Labour leader in May, added: “We are trying to focus on particular economic growth sectors. If we look to take on conferences that are part of promoting those sectors, that would give us a longer term benefit.”

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In the past, the council has routinely claimed that party conferences trigger huge economic benefit, as well as the type of global marketing for the city that money could not buy.

This week’s Conservative gathering, attended by 13,500 people, was said by Marketing Birmingham to have generated £16.5 million for the local economy.

But Marketing Birmingham has been told by Sir Albert to think again and to come up with some detailed research on the value of conferences.

Sir Albert said: “What I have said to Marketing Birmingham is that we need to look again at the way in which the subvention fund is used. Not that we don’t have a fund, but that we use it in a way that maximises the benefit to the city.

“It’s simply that we host a range of conferences and sporting events, a lot of which turn to us for subsidies. The question is, can we get more out of spreading the subvention money across a whole range of conferences tied into the economic growth sectors that the city is trying to push?

“The question really is, can we get better results out of putting money into things other than party conferences?”

He gave the example of the World Badminton Championships which have been staged in Birmingham for a number of years. This helped to present the city in the fast-growing economies of the Far East, particularly Malaysia, he stated.

Sir Albert added:  “Liverpool is chucking money at things to try to get activities into their conference centre. You have to wonder at this, you have to get off the treadmill at some point.

“You can’t have cities continually vying with each other to put more and more money into subsidising the party conferences when it is far from clear whether there is any long lasting economic benefit.

“We get publicity from a party conference, yes. But is there any long lasting economic benefit?

“If someone tells me subsidising the party conferences give use economic gain I will listen, but I am not going to take it at face value.

“Money is tight and can I justify spending in that way when spending in a slightly different way might give us greater economic benefit?  I have got to ask the question.”

The only chance, it would appear, of the party conferences returning to Birmingham anytime soon depends on the council being given permission to levy a tax on tourists. Sir Albert said he was considering putting a proposition for a bed tax to the Government.

“If we had a bed tax it would be a different argument. Then we would be able to better afford party conferences,” he added.

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