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Events can continue – but eventprofs still need answers

We are entering lockdown for a month and – as I write this – we have only just received clarification that business events for up to 30 people can continue.

Following Boris Johnson’s announcement of the new lockdown in England on Saturday, industry leaders were in constant contact with the Department of Culture Media & Sport (DCMS), yet it took more than four days to receive answers. It’s unacceptable.

Jane Longhurst, chief executive of The Meetings Industry Association said: “Last night we received confirmation from the Department of Culture Media & Sport (DCMS) that business meetings and events may take place for up to a total of 30 people, if social distancing can be maintained and the venue can demonstrate it has followed the guidance and is COVID-Secure.

“Event spaces can be used for reasons permitted by law, including for education and training purposes where ‘reasonably necessary’.

“We know that the lockdown guidance is left completely to event owners’ and venues’ interpretation of what is ‘reasonably necessary’. However, having received this clarity just hours before lockdown officially commenced, it is likely to already be totally irrelevant to the majority of venues.

“The moment the Prime Minister’s announcement was aired on Saturday evening bookings were lost, including those that would have been considered necessary. Most venues are closed and will now remain closed until 2021. Our focus must now continue to call for dedicated sector support and a firm re-opening date, so that we can start to re-build for 2021.”

So why did it take so long to get this clarification? It’s not as if the government isn’t aware of our plight. A couple of weeks ago I took part in a Zoom meeting with MP Mims Davies along with more than a dozen other event professionals. One by one, everyone in the meeting expressed dismay and incredulity at the situation we find ourselves in.

Why is the UK the only country in Europe not to have opened up its conference sector? Why are supermarkets and DIY superstores allowed to open, but not trade shows? Why can people go to the theatre but not to a conference centre? Why is the O2 allowed to open for gigs for almost 5,000 people in December, but we’re not allowed to meet in groups of more than 30? Time and time again, the message was clear; this makes no sense.

The new lockdown has raised questions for every sector in the UK – and I have been struck by how for others these have been answered swiftly. For example, I got an email on Monday telling me the builder coming round next week would still be able to come. Same goes for the surveyor I have booked for next week; the housing market is being allowed to stay open, and was immediately told as much.

I continue to be struck by the foot-dragging and inertia displayed by those in power when it comes to business events. We just want answers. It cannot have been that difficult a decision to make. So why did it take so long to make it?

NB: this article was updated on Thursday 5 November to reflect the latest updates