Next month’s Conservative Party conference at Birmingham’s International Convention Centre is to become a forum for city and regional leaders to put the case for backing the West Midlands.
Civic leaders ranging from the Bishop of Birmingham, the vice-chancellor of Birmingham University and the chief executive of Birmingham Airport are among those taking part in fringe events during the high-profile event.
Fringe meetings take place in the early morning, evening or lunchtime, and supplement the speeches and debates in the main conference hall, which culminate with David Cameron’s speech to activists on Wednesday, October 10.
Academics from the University of Birmingham are speaking in a number of fringe events, including a debate on the future of the NHS, while the vice-chancellor, Professor David Eastwood, is chairing a debate on whether universities are qualified to run schools.
It follows the Government’s decision to approve the university’s plans to open a “free school” for children aged 11 to 18, scheduled for September 2014.
The Rt Rev David Urquhart, Bishop of Birmingham, will chair a debate sponsored by the university on the theme of “wealth”, asking the question: “Are we all in it together?”.
A number of events will look at transport in the West Midlands, including a fringe meeting sponsored by transport authority Centro, where speakers include Centro chief executive Geoff Inskip. Airport chief executive Paul Kehoe is to speak at a debate on aviation sponsored by Marketing Birmingham, the body responsible for promoting the city, called: Don’t Put All Your Eggs In One Basket: Creating a balanced aviation policy for the UK. Others taking part in the debate will include Andreas von Puttkamer, head of aviation at Munich Airport, and Jim French, chief executive of budget airline flybe.
Jerry Blackett, chief executive of Birmingham Chamber of Commerce, is among the speakers at a debate on Tackling City Infrastructure and Growth Challenges, backed by Coventry University and think tank the Centre for Cities. And Rob Johnston, of the TUC, will chair a debate where speakers include John Rider, West Midlands chairman of the Institute of Directors, on “driving a manufacturing renaissance”.
City Labour MP Gisela Stuart (Edgbaston) will take part in a debate about the European Union alongside Tory eurosceptic MP John Redwood.
The conference, beginning on October 7, is expected to attract 13,500 attendees and contribute up to £16.5 million to the local economy.
It follows last year’s Liberal Democrat conference, held in the city, and the Conservative annual conferences in 2010 and 2008, also held here.
Neil Rami, chief executive of Marketing Birmingham, said: “Birmingham’s track record of hosting party political conferences is second to none, with an unprecedented nine events taking place here in the last five years. Birmingham’s visitor numbers reached a high of 33.5 million last year, helping boost the value of its visitor economy to £4.9 billion.
“With the city enjoying recent high-profile praise for its welcome by some of the world’s most famous Olympians, the conference is yet another opportunity for the city to get in the limelight, boost its reputation and show its 13,500 guests – and a vast media presence – what it has to offer.”
Paul Thandi, chief executive of the NEC Group, said: “It provides with us with further valuable opportunity to showcase both our venue and the city to a national and international audience.’’