Business Leader Blog Posts, EU Referendum Series – Paul Thandi, NEC Group CEO

NEC Group

As part of the Greater Birmingham Chambers of Commerce’s EU referendum activity we’ve challenged a selection of business, academic and political leaders to share their views on Brexit or remain and key aspects of the debate so far. All views expresses are those of the authors, not the GBCC:

Greater Birmingham Chambers of Commerce

Business Leader Blog Posts, EU Referendum Series – Paul Thandi, NEC Group CEO

We’ve experienced first-hand the impact and uncertainty of the EU referendum.

Last year we worked in partnership with Marketing Birmingham in a bid to bring ITMA - the world’s largest textile machinery exhibition - to the UK for 2019.

ITMA is held in a different European city every four years and the NEC was the only UK venue that could host an event of its scale. The most recent edition took place in Barcelona in 2011, hosting 1,355 exhibiting companies from 45 countries, attracting 100,067 visitors from 140 countries and 50 delegations from 27 countries.

Barcelona reported 100% hotel occupancy and an estimated economic impact of €800 million as a result of hosting ITMA 2011, with key attendee groups coming from China, India, and the Middle East.

Our submission - which received Government backing in the form of a filmed message of support from Vince Cable - reached the final stage of the bidding process alongside three competitive bids from France (Paris), Spain (Barcelona), and Italy (Milan), but it was ultimately unsuccessful.

We were told by the head of the ITMA organising committee that there were “a number of questions raised about whether the UK would still be in the EU after a referendum”, and that ultimately, this was seen by the Assembly as a big risk to ITMA if it moved to the UK. 

While the UK government has shown support for the exhibitions industry, and in particular recognition of what events deliver for UK plc.(the UK events industry is worth £39.1 billion), the industry continues to face challenges, particularly in attracting leading international exhibitions.

From an international trade perspective we should also consider our current position in Europe. The UK is not part of the Schengen Agreement, irrespective of the EU referendum, which already puts us at a disadvantage when trying to attract international events to the UK.

If you’re a textile manufacturer in China arranging a trip to a trade show in France, for example, you can apply for one visa that will enable you to attend the show and then travel across Europe to meet with other business contacts – but if you visit the UK you’ll need to apply for a separate visa. It’s an extra layer of complication that deters visitors from growing economies.

If we exit the EU, we’d be at an even greater disadvantage. In addition to making it harder to visit the UK, there’s a chance we’d move out of the European show rotation schedule which is crucial to our business. If we moved into the global rotation the NEC Group could be less likely to win business because we’re not based in a capital city.

Let’s not forget the impact of market uncertainty. We’re currently masterplanning with a view to extending existing uses of our NEC campus, creating a 24/7 destination of international significance. The plans will build on the fantastic connectivity the site already benefits from by road, rail and air, and will capitalise on the planned improvements, in particular through HS2.

Talking with and hearing from international investors is a day to day part of our business, but their activity is slowing down because of uncertainty around UK plc. Markets thrive on confidence and so Brexit is threatening our real-time economy which could ultimately lead to another downturn.

So, as a business, our position is clear – we (the NEC Group) support staying within the EU, primarily due to the uncertainty and potential economic effects which would result from exit and which would be very unhelpful for our own business and many others.

The Group operates in a European market for many events and on a balance of net benefits, staying within the EU is the right decision at this time.

About Paul:

Paul Thandi is the CEO of the NEC Group, one of the World’s top venue management companies.  Every year the NEC Group connects around four million people through shared experiences of business, live entertainment, sport and leisure at more than 750 events.

Since becoming CEO in October 2006 Paul has rebuilt the company’s brands and reputation, created a new senior management team and transformed the Group into a data-led organisation which has included the launch and evolution of The Ticket Factory, now a challenger brand to Ticketmaster.

The Group now employs 1500 permanent staff and 300 casual workers and delivers more than £2.1 billion annual impact to the regional economy, supporting the full-time equivalent of 29,000 jobs.


About The GBCC’s EU Referendum Series:

According to a recent British Chambers of Commerce survey of West Midlands members, if the referendum were held tomorrow: 45% of members would vote for Britain to stay in the EU and 45% would vote for Britain to leave the EU. As a result, the Greater Birmingham Chambers of Commerce will not be campaigning for either Remain or Leave, given the very real divisions that exist in the local business community.

In the months leading up to the referendum, we are actively surveying business opinion and inform the debate without fear or favour. Additionally, we will be demanding clear information and facts from both the Remain and Leave campaigns so that businesspeople can make an informed choice at the ballot box on the 23rd June.