The heads of the three exhibition industry associations give their views on what Britain’s departure from the EU might mean for events.
Andrew Harrison, director of the Event Supplier and Services Association
ESSA opened discussions and began raising awareness soon after the bill for the referendum was signed into law. We encouraged and led our members to think about the potential effects of leaving before the referendum was held. We wanted to look at supply chains, employees, customer relationships, and potential currency fluctuations, particularly in Sterling.
Our goal, over the last two and a half years, has been to stimulate discussion and thought amongst our members about the likely repercussions of Brexit. We’ve encouraged them to reflect both on their businesses and the industry as a whole. We’ve listened to expert speakers at key member events, hosted webinars on the topic and distributed all the pertinent government Brexit advice and updates. We’ve passed on relevant reports from respected financial groups, and I believe we’ve done a good job of keeping our members abreast of developments.
Engaging with the government has met with some success. Our communications with key personnel and departments has been acknowledged and we have been recognised as speaking for our significant membership of 250 companies on very specific topics. The response from the government, however, has been underwhelming. The replies can be seen on our website, but they can be largely summarised as ‘it is only responsible to plan for every eventuality.’ For two years worth of advice, it’s easy to see why some companies are frustrated at the lack of certainty.
More than three-quarters of our members are small businesses, and the government’s advice is simply not realistic for them. Planning for ‘every eventuality’ costs money and time – costs that can be soaked up by larger firms, but for the small business it means diverting precious resources to try and hit a moving target for two years.
At the time of writing this, the government has just experienced the largest defeat of any sitting government since records began. The withdrawal agreement that would have given us some clarity and certainty was resoundingly rejected, leaving us none the wiser and seemingly in exactly the same place as when Article 50 was invoked. The urge to bang my head on the desk in frustration has reached almost irresistible proportions.
By far the toughest task, when trying to engage with the industry and our members on this topic, has been depoliticising the process. For ESSA to concentrate on anything more than delivering timely information and providing representation, would have been wasted time riding a political merry-go-round with no idea when it might stop.
By the time this goes to print, we may be beyond the ‘deal or no deal’ scenario…we may even be lining up for another trip to the ballot box. Regardless of peoples’ opinions of what the country is going through, the political landscape in the UK has changed forever. We will not, in my opinion have seen the back of this process for a generation or more. This makes it very hard at this time for ESSA to predict what additional support to businesses in membership and the wider event community will be needed in the future, but we will continue to meet every challenge as we have done before, keeping our community of members fully informed, raising their awareness and representing them at the highest level.
Chris Skeith, CEO, Association of Event Organisers
Brexit. Probably the shortest and most overused word that’s succeeded in getting the entire UK population hot under the collar. Frustrated? Confused? Despondent? Impatient? You’re not the only one. As an association it’s our job to be able to offer advice and support to members but this seemingly unending deal making and breaking is proving to be a testing time for everyone.
At the beginning of January, AEO held the CEO Summit at Cliveden House for international members and, ahead of one of the sessions, we had a straw poll on how a no deal Brexit will affect our members’ businesses. Almost 60% of the CEOs and 85% of AEO members who make up the EN30 Under Thirty fed back that it would have a negative impact. A lack of clarity and uncertainty, coupled with feedback from some suppliers about the Brexit effect on costs, contributed to these results.
Until now, AEO has supported members by cascading relevant information on Brexit via the Events Industry Board (EIB) and the Business Visits and Events Partnership (BVEP). In addition, as with the CEO Summit, AEO has created an open environment where members can share their experiences and concerns. As AEO has a broad portfolio of members, what may be an issue for one, could be an opportunity for another – particularly as some members are solely UK focussed and others are global businesses. This means that a one size solution will definitely not fit all.
There’s no mistaking Brexit is a major challenge, but as with any issue that affects the industry, AEO will help share information and find solutions which can be communicated across the membership. We are setting up a special Working Group so that, once more is known, tactical and practical advice can be shared on things like the impact on international exhibitors, moving goods and any other issues that arise.
General uncertainty isn’t great for consumer confidence or good for business but when the outcome and expected time frame becomes clearer, we will be here to support members and help them navigate a way through – deal or no deal.
Rachel Parker, director of the Association of Event Venues
Brexit is unquestionably going to be a big shift in British life, if and when it happens. Thus far the process has been rocky and inconclusive. The effects of our approaching exit from the EU are simply unknown.
And that is the problem for many – uncertainty leads to speculation, and makes future planning more difficult. There must be a temptation to defer any decisions on new projects, new hires, new investments, whether this is borne out in reality is another matter entirely.
The impact of Brexit on the AEV’s membership will vary, so whilst we have referenced Brexit at board level every member venue has needed to make its own assessment and seek its own reassurances of for business continuity from relevant suppliers.
In common with Association of Event Organisers (AEO) and Event Suppliers and Services Association (ESSA), we have shared information and supported our common interests at the Event Industry Board (EIB).
Brexit is a subject that has been touched on through many sessions at our conferences for the last couple of years, it has also been a regular agenda item for many of our working groups, as they consider how Brexit outcomes may affect their specific areas of expertise. The working groups are an essential forum for discussion and resolution, covering every aspect of venues from catering to technology.
We will be able to look at the results of the AEV Size And Scale index of Events (SASiE) in the Spring, and find some insight into the impact of the last two years and develop our understanding of Brexit trends in the event industry in the years following ‘exit day’.
So whilst a clear picture of the post-Brexit event industry remains elusive, we must trust the politicians to deliver a settlement for an orderly Brexit at the political and legislative level, whilst the industry makes its preparations in light of the best advice and information available.