International Festival of Business will be a game changer for Liverpool
The Post's Bill Gleeson talks to Max Steinberg about Liverpool’s planned International Festival of Business in 2014.
Liverpool and Wirral are to stage a major business expo in 2014 that is expected to attract 500,000 visitors, as was exclusively revealed in The Liverpool Post last week.
The International Festival of Business (IFB) will take place at three locations in the city-region: the yet to be built Wirral International Trade Centre, Liverpool's Echo Arena and BT Convention Centre and at a temporary venue to be created in North Liverpool.
The hope is to attract major speakers of national and international renown and, while an admission charge has yet to be determined for the key business events, it is likely to cost hundreds of pounds per delegate to attend.
Alongside the business events, there will also be a series of cultural events to attract a wider audience, including families and other visitors, to the festival.
One of the principal aims of the month-long IFB is to help rebalance the British economy away from its reliance on boom conditions and banking in the south of the country towards the north of England's tardier economy. The other core English regional cities, such as Manchester, Leeds and Newcastle, will be invited to take part with their own exhibition stands to promote themselves to potential investors. Since the IFB is to be staged in Liverpool, the organisers hope the city will enjoy an advantage when it comes to demonstrating its potential to international investors.
The event is being organised by Liverpool Vision. The economic development agency's chief executive Max Steinberg has high hopes for it. He compared it to the Festival of Britain of 1951 and the Millennium Festival, before adding “this is really big”.
He said the concept was developed during a conversation between himself, council leader Joe Anderson and Lord Heseltine and former Tesco’s chief executive Sir Terry Leahy when they were writing their Rebalancing Britain strategy.
He said: “It’s a priority of the Government to rebalance the economy of the UK.
“We have made great strides in recent years in terms of international relations and partnerships and knowledge sharing, but there is more to be done to get across the message about the progress we have made in the last decade. The changing positive picture of the city means there was an opportunity to showcase all of that progress by some trade event that would be a game changer in terms of trade and business that 2008 was in terms of culture.”
As a result, the proposal for an international festival of business was included in Lord Heseltine and Sir Terry’s report. Last week, central government gave the project £5m, as part of Liverpool’s second round of City Deal funding. That leaves Mr Steinberg the challenge of raising up to £10m from other sources, including the private sector, something he described as a “risk”.
Mr Steinberg continued: “It’s about bringing global trading opportunities to the city. It’s about showcasing the enterprise zones and showcasing the transformation of the city. It’s also about going out to connect with global growth markets, the BRIC countries, the USA and 100 plus other countries that will be exhibiting their products.
“We know the domestic economy is going to be slow for some time yet, so we are looking for other countries to bring those trade opportunities to Liverpool and Wirral.”
The four weeks of the IFB will be structured around four major themes: the low carbon economy, the knowledge economy, superport and visitor economy. These are the sectors that have previously been identified as the ones most likely to generate economic growth in Merseyside.
Liverpool Vision is currently looking to recruit an event organiser. It could do worse than take a look at the people who organise the Yorkshire International Business Convention. Costing circa £300 per head for entry, this event has been up and running for 17 years. Held at venues around the county, including Leeds, Hull and Harrogate, it pays big money to attract speakers of the calibre of former US and Russian presidents as well as internationally famous spiritual leaders such as Archbishop Desmond Tutu and the Dalai Lama. However, the Yorkshire convention is only a one day event, whereas the Liverpool event will last a full month.
Frank McKenna, chairman of business lobby group Downtown Liverpool in Business, said: “There is not much in the UK that is similar to this. Around the world there are similar expos, but they concentrate on industry sectors, whereas this is wider than that.
“So this is unique and is plainly very ambitious.
“It demonstrates that Liverpool is determined to build on the momentum of the Shanghai Expo and the Global Entrepreneurship Congress (GEC), which were successful.
“With this one they have a much longer lead time to deliver it than with the GEC.
“Downtown is looking forward to getting involved and trying to help shape it.”
In the past, the city-region’s boroughs have sometimes struggled to work together. In contrast, this project is dependent on cooperation between Liverpool and Wirral. Mr McKenna, who has long campaigned for more streamlined local government, added: “Our track record of cross city-region working is not particularly good, so I hope this acts as a catalyst for better collaboration, not just among the boroughs directly involved but Knowsley, St Helens and Halton as well. They all have the potential to benefit. It’s for everybody’s good that this happens.”
Mr Steinberg said: “In terms of our international trading opportunities that are going to come across our doorsteps for a decade or more, this is the biggest.
“One of the pleasing aspects of this is that Wirral Borough Council at a very senior level is a key partner. And the Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP). Here is the LEP sitting at the table to help deliver this event. It is chaired by Liverpool Vision, but we are working together to achieve shared objectives. Barriers will not be allowed to get in the way. It will give a working example of how things can be done by organisations working in partnership.”
One thing that has changed these days is that few people now doubt that Liverpool can organise and deliver an event of this scale. Mr Steinberg said: “Because of Capital of Culture and Shanghai and the GEC, which was the most successful that has ever taken place, there is a view that the city has the track record to deliver these major events.
“If we were sitting here 10 years ago, we would never have done it. I am clear the host is Liverpool in partnership with Wirral and in partnership with Atlantic Gateway.
“We have lost port related and manufacturing jobs and in part replaced them with knowledge, creative, retail and hospitality jobs.
“If you were to look at a map of the R&D hotspots, it would be Oxford, Cambridge and London. The coldest spots would be around the north. Is that inexorable and do you accept that position or do you change the game?
“I think an event like this will create its own legacy.
“Cities that hold these sorts of events create for themselves a reputation for can do thinking. Then, when the next opportunity comes around they can get themselves on the agenda,” said Mr Steinberg.