The Conservative Party conference will return to Birmingham next year – bringing a multi-million pound boost to the city’s economy.
The city will host the event for the fourth time in seven years in 2014 – expected to be the final conference before the next General Election.
Business leaders have welcomed the news – which will mean up to 14,000 delegates heading to the city creating an economic boost, which has been as much as £20 million in previous conferences, and the eyes of the global media for four days, after a deal was struck by Marketing Birmingham and partners.
However, it is unlikely that any major political conferences will return in the short-term after Birmingham City Council leader Sir Albert Bore signalled a change in focus for the city’s major events funding.
Andy Street, chairman of the Greater Birmingham and Solihull Local Enterprise Partnership, said: “The Conservative Party’s return to Birmingham for next year’s conference is good news for the city. The economic benefit and media profile of hosting the event is significant and, as the last conference before the General Election, could make Greater Birmingham the scene of some interesting debates.
“Greater Birmingham is currently at the forefront of discussions with government to put regional cities in control of their own growth.
“In welcoming the Conservative Party back in 2014, we have an opportunity to reinforce our credentials as a forward thinking, dynamic and welcoming, city region.”
Data from Marketing Birmingham shows previous Conservative conferences held in the city brought an economic boost in terms of additional spending.
In 2012, the economy was boosted by £16.5 million, in 2010 it was £18.4 million and in 2008 there was a £20 million boost.
It is thought the conference costs between £1 million and £1.5 million to stage – which was deemed a worthwhile investment for Birmingham’s former Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition.
However, Sir Albert has said that inward investment rather than prestige should be prioritised, and he wants to focus on attracting events related to economic growth sectors that could boost the city longer term.
These include advanced manufacturing, automotive, business, professional and financial services, digital media and ICT, life sciences and food and drink.
Sir Albert said: “Looking beyond 2014, we are aiming to attract events in sectors the city is also targeting for investment. These events will bring industry leaders and decision makers to Birmingham, creating opportunities for us to showcase the city’s offer as a business destination. This will ensure that events held here act as a catalyst for the city’s economic growth.
“Aligning our events and inward investment strategies in this way may mean that we do not host political conferences as we look to maximise investment opportunities with a range of events.”
In the past, political parties would flock to seaside resorts like Bournemouth, Blackpool, Brighton or smaller towns like Harrogate. But recently the larger cities have entered the fray making for a much more competitive environment. This has grown more competitive in recent years, especially after Liverpool offered its new Echo Arena and Convention Centre in 2008.
Marketing Birmingham, which promotes the city as a meetings and events destination through its Meet Birmingham programme, has worked closely with the party, the ICC and city partners to bring the event to Birmingham.
However, it will now refocus its events strategy, with the Royal College of Paediatric and Child Health (RCPCH) annual conference – allowing the city to showcase its medicine and life sciences credentials – at the ICC in April 2014 and 2015 among the early wins.
Ian Taylor, commercial director of Marketing Birmingham, said: “It is welcome news for the city that we are able to confirm the Conservatives’ autumn conference in 2014. It is an important piece of business and one that we have been working on for some time.
“In the coming months, Marketing Birmingham will be working with partners to identify, bid for and secure events in the sectors the city is targeting for inward investment.”
Chairman of the Conservative Party, Grant Shapps, said: “The Conservative Party has always received such a warm welcome from the city of Birmingham.
“It has always been a great place to hold our conference and we look forward to returning to Birmingham soon.”
City hotels and other leisure sector firms have been urged to form an umbrella group to create a fund to attract major events in light of public cuts to marketing budgets.
Birmingham city council officers are considering plans to set up a hotel business improvement district to raise a levy which will be used to attract, promote and subsidise major events, such as political party conferences or sporting championships.
The council currently funds Marketing Birmingham to the tune of £4.4 million a year, but is under pressure to cut non-statutory spending.