The economic and political implications of Scottish independence and the UK’s relationship with the EU were the key themes discussed during the first session of the British Council for Offices annual conference being held at the ICC.
The networking and membership organisation has chosen Birmingham as its host city for the second time after visiting in 2000, since when the political landscape and economic make-up of the region has changed enormously.
Birmingham City Council leader Sir Albert Bore welcomed the 450-plus delegates to the second day of the three-day conference, which started on Wednesday with tours of Jaguar Land Rover and the city centre.
He highlighted the many large-scale developments taking place in Birmingham such as Paradise Circus, the plans for Curzon Street Station and New Street Grand Central retail mall which will include the largest John Lewis store outside London.
Sir Albert also talked about the city council’s recent moves to new and better-equipped offices such as Woodcock Street and Lancaster Circus which, he claims, will enable £100 million of cost savings over the next 25 years.
Among the guest speakers and panellists are BCO chairman Richard Kauntze, Boris Johnson’s chief economic adviser Dr Gerard Lyons, political journalist Isabel Oakeshott and Martin Vander Weyer, business editor, The Spectator.
On the subject of Scotland’s independence vote, Ms Oakeshott said: “It seems incredible to me as someone who was brought up in Scotland that I should be standing here seriously talking about the possibility of a vote for independence.
“The implications for everyone in the UK are phenomenal. I think we stand on the brink of the most exciting and turbulent period in British politics, since at least the run up to 1997 when after 18 years of Tory rule the tectonic plates were shifting to create Tony Blair’s landslide.
“Consider this, within the next six months Scotland could have voted to leave the Union; an outcome that could force the resignation of David Cameron.
“I don’t think any Prime Minister could expect to continue unchallenged if they presided over the break-up of their own country.”
Thursday’s opening session finished with a panel debate, during which Mr Kauntze asked the question how long ‘city state’ London can sustain itself.
Mr Weyer responded by saying the sheer unaffordability of London property over the next few years will work in favour of the regions.
Ms Oakeshott talked about the political relationship between London and the rest of the UK.
“We have the problem of a metropolitan political elite,” she said.
“There is a real disconnect between MPs and the hardships of life outside the M25.”
Dr Lyons highlighted the variety of inbalances in the UK economy: “London needs to compete globally but we need to make our mid-tier cities global cities, too,” he said.
“Birmingham, Manchester and Leeds should all be able to compete globally.
“I spent time at Warwick University and got to know Jaguar Land Rover. These are amazing success stories. We just need to get a greater scale of these successes.”
The morning sessions continued with a debate called ‘Revenue - stream or customer? Putting the occupiers centre stage’, which asked whether office tenants’ needs come before the financial interests of landlords and developers.
The conference continues with seminars and technical tours of Birmingham buildings such as Fort Dunlop, the city council’s offices at Woodcock Street and Lancaster Circus and Brindleyplace.