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Martin Mullaney: Why political conferences are important to Birmingham

Martin Mullaney: Why political conferences are important to Birmingham

🕔17.Oct 2012

In his article The Emperor’s New Clothes: Sir Albert Bore and the ‘myth’ that party conferences are good for Birmingham  Paul Dale put forward the argument that Birmingham City Council subsidising party political conferences was not good value for money. I want to argue that they are.

In Paul’s article, he agrees with Councillor Sir Albert Bore, Leader of Birmingham’s Labour-run administration, in questioning the need for the Council to continue to spend £1.5million per year attracting party political conferences to Birmingham. The article questions the economic value of such a subsidy in attracting visitors to our hotels, restaurants and pubs.

I do feel this article completely misses the point and importance of party political conferences in Birmingham. If we were only to look at the economic value to the hotels, restaurants and bars on hosting these conferences, then I would be up there also questioning their worth. I am sure that hosting the UK stamp collectors convention or the ball-bearing manufacturer’s European symposium would attract more attendees than any political conference and for a fraction of the cost.

But party political conferences have a far greater economic value than any comic book convention at the ICC will ever attract. For the following two reasons:

 The Global City agenda
Attracting party political conferences fits in perfectly with the Global City agenda for Birmingham. Many post-industrial cities across the world have recognised the economic value of being a global city. Global Cities attract businesses to set up their regional and national headquarters in them. Places like Manchester and Frankfurt had the same economic and image problems in the late 1970s that blight Birmingham now – they have transformed themselves in the last thirty years by acting as Global Cities. Global cities have many common characteristics and one of those is the hosting political meetings of national, European and International importance.

Bringing the nation’s decision makers and London media to Birmingham
Birmingham suffers from an out dated image problem. Members of the government, across the political spectrum, and London’s national media, still think of Birmingham as a dull concrete city full of pedestrian underpasses. You and I know that Birmingham has transformed itself in the last twenty years, BUT those in London still have this negative view of Birmingham.

That negative old fashioned view of Birmingham damages our city economically. Look at how Manchester is now seen as a ‘cool cutting edge city’ attracting graduates every year, whilst Birmingham continually fails to retain its graduates.

When I was the Cabinet member for Leisure, Sport and Culture (2009 to 2012) the only time the London press were ever interested in coming to Birmingham was only to write disparaging articles about how boring, soulless or thick Birmingham was. I would always do my upmost to prove the complete opposite and with plenty of success.

So to have the nation’s media and a large part of the government here in Birmingham last week is a fantastic opportunity to prove how brilliant this city is AND to explain how much more successful we could be with a little bit more help from the government.

Finally, it is interesting to compare the attitude of Birmingham with Manchester: Manchester is steaming ahead attracting future political conferences, since they clearly ‘get it’ about being a Global City. If Birmingham City Council decides to abandon attracting future party political conferences, it will be a short sighted financial gain, but will allow Manchester to, yet again, leave Birmingham standing.


Martin Mullaney was a Liberal Democrat councillor for Moseley and Kings Heath Ward from 2004 to 2012

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