First three festivals generated hundreds of millions of pounds of investment and Downtown in Business boss Frank McKenna says letting it go elsewhere would be a ‘travesty’. Tony McDonough reports
Liverpool city region political leaders are considering turning down the chance to host the fourth International Business Festival in 2020 – a possibility that will cause shock and dismay in the business community.
The city has successfully hosted festivals in 2014, 2018 and in June this year, attracting tens of thousands of business people from more than 100 countries and generating hundreds of millions of pounds of investment for UK firms.
Thanks to its devolution deal with the Government, Liverpool city region has the option of continuing to host the event, which comes with £5m of Government support.
However, LBN understands that while Metro Mayor Steve Rotheram is keen for the 2020 festival to go ahead there are some figures in city region local authorities that believe the £5m could be better spent on other projects.
The first three festivals were organised by a separate team within Liverpool Vision, Liverpool City Council’s economic development and inward investment agency but the overall decision for 2020 will rest with Mr Rotheram and the Combined Authority.
And Frank McKenna, chief executive of Liverpool business and networking organisation Downtown in Business, believes politicians would be “daft” to pass up the opportunity for a fourth festival.
Should Liverpool city region turn down the opportunity to host the fourth festival it would seem likely that another UK city would jump at the chance to take it on.
Mr McKenna said: ““The Festival has not been an unprecedented success, but it has had a positive impact for the city, and its image as a business-friendly location.
“It is a challenging event to host. We are having to create a programme that attracts an international audience, investors and entrepreneurs from across the UK, and cater for the regions business community too.
“That is no easy task, and I am sure the event organisers would acknowledge that over the course of the last festival, not enough was done to engage with Merseyside’s businesses.
“Nevertheless, we should learn from that mistake, and correct it for the 2020 event. Throwing such a fantastic brand and opportunity away would be a travesty.”
In 2014, Liverpool hosted the first event, a six-week extravaganza then known as the International Festival for Business. A shorter version was held at Exhibition Centre Liverpool in 2016 with the same name.
The original idea came from a report authored by former Minister for Merseyside Lord Heseltine and the Liverpool-former Tesco chief executive Sir Terry Leahy. The 2018 event was renamed the International Business Festival and was more tightly focused on specific sectors for each of the three weeks.
A combined total of £600m was generated in sales and investments from 2014 and 2016 and this year festival organisers set a target of £400m to take the total past £1bn. That figure has yet to be evaluated and published.
Last week the organisers published statistics from this year’s festival. They revealed that across the nine days of the festival (over three weeks) there were 15,000 individual visits with 10,000 unique attendees.
Around 10,000 business meetings were booked to discuss possible business deals and there were more than 200 thought leaders and industry experts speaking at a number of events.
Mr McKenna added: “Other cities Downtown operates in would be delighted to get their hands on the festival. As Max Steinberg said when Liverpool won the right to organise the IBF, Liverpool has established itself as a genuine player in the visitor economy following its success as the European Capital of Culture in 2008.
“This Festival gives the city the opportunity to sell itself as a capital for commerce too.”