Meetings Industry Association is “underwhelmed” by budget announcement

The Meetings Industry Association (mia) has said it is underwhelmed with today’s budget announcement, despite recognising the wide range of support measures being introduced with an intention of driving the UK’s economic recovery.

Jane Longhurst, chief executive of the mia, said: “While today’s budget does offer some immediate relief which we are grateful for, we are disappointed by the measures outlined by Rishi Sunak as it is clear the government does not appreciate the scale at which the sector has been impacted, nor the significant delay before business will return.

“We welcome the furlough extension until the end of September however, the sector will be required to contribute towards the cost of unworked hours from July, which is well before business meetings and events will return to any sustainable level of business and consequential income.

“Revenue losses for those operating within the sector have been harrowing, and as financial reserves have been necessarily depleted to compensate for restricted revenue generation, the foundations to make such contributions or simply re-open at any familiar capacity is currently not there.

“As expressed by the chancellor, the Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) is optimistically expecting the UK economy to return to pre-COVID levels by the middle of next year, which is great news, however, our latest research has demonstrated that this is not true for the events sector and recovery is unlikely to be any sooner than 2023.

“Similarly, the 100% business rates holiday through to the end of June will then see the remaining nine months of 2021 discounted by two-thirds, which is little support for a sector that will only be able to fully reopen its doors for larger-scale events on 21 June, at the very earliest. The timing of the end of the business rates holiday is also unfortunate, coming exactly at the point when for many CIBILs repayments will start.

“At the same time, the sector will need to account for other increases such as the National Living Wage rise of 2.2% for basic rate workers to £8.91 an hour, even while these staff are still furloughed. This will have a huge impact on venues – as both front- and back-of-house support staff play a key role in ensuring their operations run efficiently.  

“Meanwhile, according to our research our members have spent, on average, £41,113 to ensure their venues are COVID-Secure, so we sincerely hope that venues will qualify for the new Restart Grants of up to £18k designed to help businesses reopen and get going again.

“We are grateful that the 5% VAT cut for ‘hard hit sectors’ has been extended for six months – and then a phased return to 20% from April next year. Likewise, when applications for the existing Bounce Back Loans and CIBILs scheme come to an end on 31 March, these will be replaced by a new Recovery Loans Scheme until December.

“Today’s budget arms the sector with the knowledge that it will have to plan and will enable them to make business decisions based on the knowledge that the government’s support will stop before business returns. The mia will remain committed to its lobbying work to fight for both recognition and support for its unique challenges.”