Birmingham has waved goodbye to Conservative delegates following their party conference at the ICC – and it doesn’t look like they’ll be back for some time.
Although the city worked extremely hard to convince the political parties to hold their big events here, the new administration running the city council has apparently decided it doesn’t need their business.
This isn’t just about the Tories. The Lib Dems have also held their annual conference in Birmingham while Labour has held its smaller spring conference here, and it had been hoped that Labour would one day bring its larger autumn event to the city too.
Now, that appears unlikely to happen for the foreseeable future.
The bone of contention is apparently a subsidy that has been offered to the parties, in the form of a discount on the hire of the ICC.
The city council is concerned that this subsidy is hard to justify when times are tough.
That would certainly be true if the discount was an act of charity.
But it has always been a hard-headed business decision. Effectively, it’s a bribe to get the parties here. And while that may stick in the craw a little, it is justified because the benefits to the city are huge.
What matters is what brings in the most money to the city. And if an investment of £1.5 million brings an event here which boosts the economy by £16.5 million, then it is worth it.
In fact, attracting business to Birmingham, even if it requires an initial outlay by the city, becomes more rather than less important when economic times are hard.
Being charitable, it may be that the city is simply adopting a hard-headed negotiating position in an effort to get the subsidy down, and there’s nothing wrong with that.
But if so, there’s no sign that it’s worked. The parties seem happy to stay away.
Another argument might be that the party conferences can be replaced by other events which do not require a subsidy.
But it’s not as if the ICC is currently full every week of the year. If other organisations do want to come here – and they do – it’s already possible to accommodate them.
Party conferences are like any other event which brings large numbers of visitors to the city. Whether they are here for fun or to hear speeches, delegates are tourists who spend money in Birmingham’s hotels, bars and restaurants.
The fact that hotels are apparently cashing in – which makes them no different to hotels at every other party conference venue – illustrates this.
The conferences, however, have added value. They turn the city into the centre of the new media’s world for a few days. The nation’s top journalists come, and the city plays a starring role in television broadcasts every evening.
Turning the parties aways simply lets cities like Manchester and Liverpool steal a march on us. It is an act of monumental folly.