Birmingham is set to end subsidies to attract party conferences to the city – meaning Labour, the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats will look elsewhere.
The city will not host another major political party conference before the 2015 General Election – meaning a huge loss of revenue from delegates and a blow to efforts to raise the city’s profile.
A hugely successful Conservative Party conference held this week has seen 13,500 party activists, lobbyists and the world’s media descend on Birmingham.
The Tory gathering ends a run of eight party meetings in five years – including the Conservative autumn conferences in 2008, 2010 and this year and the 2011 Liberal Democrat conference.
Instead the three main parties are set to spend next October in Glasgow, Brighton and Manchester, and in 2014 both the Tories and Lib Dems plan to go to Liverpool, with Labour just along the M62 in Manchester.
But the Birmingham Post understands a key factor in attracting parties to the city had been a discount for use of the International Conference Centre (ICC) in Broad Street. This was covered by a subsidy from the city council-funded Marketing Birmingham, thought to be worth between £1 million and £1.5 million.
But now council bosses are conducting a review of the events budget and sources have told the Post they cannot justify the subsidy at a time when grass roots services are being starved of money.
There is a feeling that party conferences only serve an elite, made up of politicians, lobbyists and business people and the money could be better spent elsewhere.
But others point out that the money eventually trickles down through the employment and business these events create.
At the same time political party members have grumbled that staying in Birmingham can be expensive compared to seaside resorts or northern cities. Seaside towns in particular have hundreds of cheap bed and breakfast places in October.
Conservative Mike Whitby, who as city council leader oversaw negotiations to bring the recent run of conferences to Birmingham, said he would ‘move heaven and Earth’ to bring more in if he was still in control.
He said: “The city is rightly recognised as one of the best cities to hold party political conferences. We have attracted the parties of the Coalition Government to Birmingham for the last three years.
“We have the eyes of the world on us, the Mayor of New York is here. He wouldn’t come if there wasn’t the conference. You cannot get that kind of publicity any other way. It is essential for a global city.
“I would be hugely disappointed if we are not been able to continue that good run.”
The Chamber of Commerce said that the event is important and extremely popular, but understood the financial pressure on the city council.
Spokesman John Lamb said: “We have had a good run of party political conferences over the last five years. And a strong reputation based on European conferences and even the G8 summit going further back.
“This needs to be looked at. We understand that the same incentives cannot be offered in the current climate. We have got to lever in resources or more creative incentives.”
He said that it had long been a view of delegates that Birmingham is among the most expensive UK cities outside London.
In the past, political parties would flock to seaside resorts like Bournmouth, 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.
Due to the private nature of negotiations it is not clear whether Birmingham’s ICC is more expensive than comparable venues, but without the subsidy it perhaps loses a competitive edge.
The council’s own events promoter, Marketing Birmingham, said it was reviewing its events budget to ensure it secured maximum benefit for the city and was in continual dialogue with a range of organisations, including political parties, to bring events to the city.
Ian Taylor, commercial director for Marketing Birmingham, said: “Marketing Birmingham manages a major events fund on behalf of Birmingham City Council.
“The fund is used to attract conferences and events to the city that will have a significant economic impact.
“The events we, as a city, bid for are under constant review as we seek to ensure that each event we secure brings a significant economic and profile boost to the Birmingham area.
“The events industry is a competitive marketplace and as such it would not be prudent to discuss particular events we are seeking to host in the coming years.”
A spokesman for the ICC said: “We have a major events fund which is used to attract conferences and events we believe will have a significant impact on the city.
“We continually review the events we bid for. It is an extremely competitive market place. But the conferences are not cut and dried.”