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Exhibitions industry blindsided by government support

by Emily Wallin

The exhibitions industry has been caught blindsided by the government announcement for extra support for UK trade shows operating around the world.

The Department for International Trade (DIT) yesterday published a 12-point export strategy, which includes the launch of a new UK Trade Show Programme better-tailored to help businesses, particularly those outside London and the South East, to attend and promote their products around the world.

Exhibitions industry insiders have hailed the news as revolutionary recognition for the industry but said they were surprised not to have been involved in drawing up the strategy and called for more detail on the support being offered. The 66-page report states that the new UK Trade Show Programme will run as a pilot until 2023 providing support to UK-based SMEs to understand the benefits of exhibiting at overseas trade show.

SMEs will be able to access grants to visit shows before deciding to exhibit and some businesses will receive grants of up to £4,000 towards exhibition costs. However, industry insiders told Exhibition News they were not consulted on the plans and industry associations are already looking for information on how the plan will help them.

The Association of Exhibition Organisers (AEO) chief executive, Chris Skeith, said the announcement reflected the collective hard work of industry over the past couple of years. “It’s heartening to see that the collective hard work of the industry in demonstrating the economic impact and trading benefits of business events, in particular trade shows, has been recognised by DIT.

“The devil is however in the detail, and we have already asked officials from DCMS and BEIS on how the sector can directly engage in the scheme to help ensure its success. We have also highlighted that UK based organisers lead the world with their international activities, citing pre pandemic £2.1bn of turnover from these companies was recognised in the UK economy, and therefore the UK Government would incrementally benefit further if shows produced by these organisers were integrated into the scheme.”

Andrew Harrison, director of the Event Supplier and Services Association (ESSA) said: “Did we know this was coming? No.

“But we are now aware of it and we are consulting with the DCMS and BEIS on the detail. This replicates this slightly disjointed approach by government. There isn’t always the collaborative approach within departments of government so you can get blindsided by something.

“What’s important is now that it has been released, is to find out what this is, what’s already in there and what we can consult and advise them on. There’s probably two or three areas where they could have made this more watertight.

“They could have made it more lucrative for certain sectors specifically ours.

“As I look at this is them recognising that trade events have a huge impact on companies being able to trade not just in the UK, but also internationally. It’s a massive platform for that. But what they have failed to provide detail of at the moment is that they could have supercharged this. They could stipulate within this scheme that there are incentives to drive this investment through UK companies. Keeping the money in the country and keeping people employed. All of these companies are paying UK taxes so they could be doubling up in their investment by making subtle tweaks that wouldn’t necessarily cost them anything.

“We think there could be incentives if you used a UK contractor or a UK stand builder, a UK AV provider. The UK is a market leader in exhibitions on the organising side, venue side and especially on the supply side. I think they have missed a trick – but we are not saying this isn’t something we can influence and already talking to Baise and DCMS on how we can help them make this a better product now they have announced it.

“This is recognition that our industry has a major impact on how businesses trade. It is superb and we should celebrate it.

“Now we need to support government and work with government to make sure that what they are doing is going to have a deeper impact.”

EN has asked the secretary of state for international trade Anne-Marie Trevelyan for further clarification on the strategy.

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