Will Brexit play party pooper for the UK events industry?

Being cut off from European talent will seriously cramp the sector's style, says events professional Lorne Armstrong.

by Lorne Armstrong
Last Updated: 26 Oct 2017

The UK is regarded internationally as the global centre of event management. This may seem like an arrogant statement, but actually it’s rooted in a cultural confidence in event organisation (look no further than Royal occasions) coupled with our contemporary edge in design, creativity and technical production. If you add in world class venues, logistics and project management, it’s no surprise that the world’s leading event agencies and training organisations make the UK home.

It’s also very big business. From exhibitions and conferences to music, sporting and cultural events, we contribute over £42 billion annually to the economy. The events industry also employs more than 550,000 people, making it our 15th largest employer. The top 10 UK events agencies together turn over more than £3.5 billion, much of which is generated through clients and business outside the UK.

But like the rest of the country’s enormously successful creative sectors, it’s all about attracting and retaining talented people and in an international sector this means employing people not just from the UK, but from around the world, and in particular from Europe.   

As an events professional myself for more than 25 years and as founder of The Event Academy, which prepares the best students to work in the industry, I see first-hand the lure of the UK as the ‘go to’ destination for the world’s best event agencies and event training.

The question is what will happen to this confidence and talent after Brexit? One concern is that our positioning as the global centre of excellence will be eroded. London is already being directly challenged by Berlin for the title of ‘European capital of cool’.

Creative businesses are already reporting an impact on recruitment, with candidates from the EU turning down job offers because of uncertainty about their future status. At The Event Academy we have also seen a drop in interest from EU nationals over the past year.

Creative event agencies such as The Department, Clarion, Jack Morton and TBA rely on fresh, international perspectives – it’s vital if they’re going to compete for work for international clients such as BMW, Diageo, Toyota, AXA etc.  Many of the briefs for these big projects involve European events or shows and require pan-European teams with the cultural and linguistic acumen to work across multiple countries.

Moreover, what will it do to the competitiveness of UK companies if they face bureaucratic hurdles employing a talented designer from Spain or face tariffs or other obstacles when exporting their services to Germany?

Tim Plyming, one of our expert advisors and MD of creative events agency, Green Rock, sums this up in a nutshell:  ‘A big reason for the success of the creative industries in the UK is our ability to attract skilled talent from across the EU as well as the wider world. We benefit hugely from the rich talent pool that the EU offers us and the diverse cultural experience they bring to the projects we work on - many of which are seen by audiences across Europe.’

According to Mark Beaver, MD of Event Concept, finding skilled event engineers is one of their biggest issues, with the potential to limit their growth. They currently have a number of highly skilled European engineers on their books, but if these people are prevented or discouraged from working here, this skills shortage will only increase, which will have a direct impact on their business.

As a starting point, it’s important for those with the responsibility negotiating the UK’s exit from Europe to understand that top creative talent does not grow on trees, and that we must do all that we can to continue to provide an attractive and supportive environment for European students who either want to study here as well as young European professionals who see it as an advantage to work in the UK as part of their career paths.

Lorne Armstrong is a co-founder and director of The Event Academy, a training business for the events industry. 

Image credit: (c) Willee Cole Photography/Shutterstock

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