City MPs have hit out after it emerged that more than 95 per cent of Birmingham’s major events budget is being spent on the Conservative Party Conference.
Labour MPs in the region say a £1.48 million deal to bring the conference to the ICC was set up when Birmingham City Council was run by Conservative leader Mike Whitby – and now it has left the budget hamstrung.
That cost to the taxpayer for this year’s conference at the ICC from September 28 to October 1, leaves just £67,000 for the council to put on other events.
The deal to bring three Conservative Party conferences to the city was agreed under the previous council regime, led by Lord Whitby, but new leader Sir Albert Bore has vowed to put an end to such events.
The £1.48 million will be spent on hiring out the ICC, as well as security, transport and traffic costs.
Investment body Marketing Birmingham claims the conference could generate up to £20 million for the region’s economy.
However, city MP Gisela Stuart (Lab, Edgbaston) said: “Whether this was a Labour Party conference or a Conservative Party conference it wouldn’t be right.
“For an outgoing Conservative leader to sign off on such an expensive party conference makes it doubly bad. Now Birmingham is suffering under these Tory party cuts it is really adding insult to injury.
“I would say Lord Whitby has some explaining to do.”
She added: “To spend more than 90 per cent of your budget on any one thing is wrong in principle.
“Added to that, the fact it is a party conference – which are terribly inward-looking, and rarely do people leave the cordoned-off area – makes this specifically wrong.”
The largest event after the conference to be supported by the city fund, managed by Marketing Birmingham, is the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health Conference, which costs a comparatively small £40,000.
Hosting the Tory conference for a fourth time in seven years will mean up to 14,000 delegates heading to the city and major international coverage.
However, city MP Steve McCabe (Lab Selly Oak) said the cost of the conference was too high in light of austerity cuts, which have seen council expenditure curtailed significantly.
He said: “I wonder if taxpayers would really support that. It strikes me as a strange position. I don’t think we should be spending taxpayers’ money marketing the Tory party.
“In this age of austerity, where the council is suffering as a result of cuts from a Conservative Chancellor, it doesn’t seem right that this should come at taxpayers’ expense.
“I’d like to see some evidence that taxpayers approve of this and are getting value-for-money.”
He added: “This is a deal that was conceived, no doubt, some time back, but times have changed – since then the massive cuts have meant the climate has really changed, making this highly questionable.”
But a West Midlands Conservative Party spokesman said: “Figures show previous party conferences held in the city have brought a multi-million pound boost to Birmingham including by £20 million in 2008.
“Business tourism is important for the local economy and the return of conference this year has already been welcomed by the Greater Birmingham and Solihull Local Enterprise Partnership.”
Labour council leader Sir Albert Bore has made no secret of the fact he wants to put an end to spending on party conferences, in favour of events targeting inward investment.
Coun Ian Ward, deputy leader of Birmingham City Council, said the funding of major events had been reviewed in light of “budgetary pressures”.
He added: “As I have made clear in the past, party conferences will not form part of our major events portfolio in the future as we focus on attracting events from priority business sectors – life sciences, advanced manufacturing, digital and creative industries.
“Hosting party conferences has benefited the city in the past but we now have to focus our valuable resources on events that have the widest benefit on the city as a whole.”