Mash Media editorial director Martin Fullard, looks at the challenges faced by the events industry as Liz Truss ascends to Downing Street.

I can’t imagine that a new prime minister will result in much change for the events industry, but there is no denying that new premier Liz Truss has a huge task on her hands.

For much of 2022, the energy crisis has dominated headlines, and with the reality now beginning to bite, it is almost inconceivable that no action will be taken.

As ever, the hustings didn’t yield much in the way of detail as to what action may or may not be taken to support people and businesses. For an industry already in the midst of a recruitment crisis and hammered by inflation, it seems that yet another unwelcome obstacle is chewing into funds.

Energy crisis destroying lives and businesses across the board

Some small businesses are seeing increases of 500% on existing energy bills of £140,000, which is unsustainable, the Meetings Industry Association has reported.

In an open letter to chancellor Nadhim Zawahi and business secretary Kwasi Kwarteng on 30 August, UKHospitality CEO Kate Nicholls called for the introduction of ‘a comprehensive package of measures to the end of March 2023’, including a business rates holiday for all hospitality premises, with no caps applied; deferral of all environmental levies; the reinstatement of a generous HMRC Time to Pay scheme; and the reintroduction of a trade credit insurance scheme for energy.

Of course, should such measures be introduced, we may find a repeat of the pandemic, with them being only applicable to those in the leisure, retail, and hospitality sectors. While many parts of event matrix do cross over into hospitality, a lot of it does not. The vast and diverse supply chain, organisers, many venues, and service providers are all once more at risk unless a blanket support is introduced.

Michael Kill, CEO of Night Time Industries Association, which again crosses the streams of events and hospitality, has said it would be “hard to disguise the frustration and anxiety experienced across the industry” as the leadership contest has dragged on over the summer, extending the crisis.

“It is now vital that the new prime minister takes this opportunity to be decisive in tackling the cost inflation crisis, over the coming days, by reducing VAT across the board, extending business rates relief and implementing an energy cap for small medium enterprise businesses,” he said.

“Over the coming weeks without an effective intervention from the Government, we will see thousands of businesses go to the wall and millions of jobs lost.”

Questions remain over how much exhibition organisers will be expecting to pay. Big shows use a lot of energy, so will be the cost of power make show unviable, will venues swallow the cost, or will organisers be encouraging their exhibitors to build stands without the need for power, bearing in mind batteries are not an option on health and safety grounds.

Delays to national marketing budget

VisitBritain is facing another uphill challenge as it struggles to get its full marketing budget signed off by Jacob Rees-Mogg, who has been widely tipped to become the next business secretary. The sole purpose of VisitBritain is to encourage people and business to come to Britain from abroad, and to do that it needs to be able to market the country.

The Guardian picked up that Rees-Mogg has declined to sign the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport’s £800,000 budget (which was agreed at the last spending review), despite green lighting £4m worth of VisitBritain campaigns.

“Destinations across the world are battling to rebuild their visitor economies from the pandemic. There is huge pent-up demand for travel & people have a lot of choice where to go. We want to make sure they choose Britain,” a VisitBritain Business statement read.

“International visitors spent more than £28bn in the UK in 2019 with that money going into local economies and supporting jobs,” it continued.

“We need to be out promoting Britain across all our key inbound markets to be able compete for that visitor spend, and to support the more than 200,000 small businesses that rely on tourism right across the country.”

The SIC codes must be updated

We wrote time and time again during the pandemic that having the correct Standardised Industrial Classification (SIC) codes was paramount in shoring up the future of the events industry, and that it was the only sure-fire way to demonstrate the true scale of the sector. We will need that spirit once more.

In the eyes of Government, the sector does not exist (certainly on the scale we say it does). The reason the events industry is not recognised by governments around the world (this is not just a UK problem) is that it is not correctly coded on the UN’s ISIC system. The framework’s main purpose is to provide a set of activity categories that can be used for the collection and reporting of statistics according to these activities. Different regions use slightly different versions of ISIC, but essentially it’s the same.

The UK’s SIC code system has been aligned to the EU’s system, and ironically since leaving the EU the UK is now able to make granular changes. The ONS told me earlier this year that a consultation on updating the codes was on the table (I will check for an update on this after summer).

There are only five codes that represent the wider events industry, but by my own investigation, fewer than 20% of event businesses use the available codes. If you’re not using one of the five, you are making the events industry smaller. The existing codes do not accurately represent the range of the industry.
You can add one or two to your tax return at the end of tax year, this may give the Treasury a nudge in the right direction. They are:

  • 68202 Letting and operating of conference and exhibition centres
  • 82302 Activities of conference organisers
  • 82301 Activities of exhibition and fair organisers
  • 56210 Event catering activities
  • 90020 Support activities to performing arts

If we do not get this sorted as an industry, we will find the challenges ahead even harder to overcome.

Liz Truss must step up, and we must lobby our MPs once more

We shouldn’t shy away from speaking up as an industry. Prime minister Truss enters 10 Downing Street with a lot to worry about, and the future of the once-£84bn events industry must be on her agenda.

To prove to her that the industry is large enough to warrant support, we as an industry must use the SIC codes available on our tax return forms, even if they aren’t wholly accurate. This will at least provide the government with a glimpse of the industry’s scale.

Every event business owner must now write to their MPs with evidence of the increase in their energy bills, and as a sector we should not shy away from contacting national and regional media to share the story. Find your MP here.

If the industry does not learn the lessons of the pandemic, then history is doomed to be repeated.

The campaign is now underway.