Prime minister Boris Johnson has confirmed that conferences and exhibitions will be permitted in England from 1 October 2020.
Addressing the nation from Downing Street, 17 July, the prime minister said the decision would depend on data and that Local Authorities would have powers to close events if there was a danger to the public. The prime minister noted that there would be pilot events ahead of the reopening.
Events for up to 30 people are also permitted from 1 August.
The Nightingale hospitals, which currently occupy ExCeL London, the NEC, Harrogate Convention Centre and Manchester Central, will remain until the end of March 2021. It is not yet clear how this will impact events at these venues.
“I can confirm that we are providing an additional £3bn of funding to the NHS in England to get ready for winter. Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland will also receive additional funds. This will allow the NHS to continue to use the extra hospital capacity acquired from the independent sector and also to maintain the Nightingale hospitals until the end of March." the prime minister said.
On the reopening of the business events industry, the prime minister added: "From October, we intend to bring back audiences in stadia and to allow conferences and other business events to recommence – again, these changes must be done in a Covid Secure way, subject to the successful outcome of pilots."
Answering a question from the FT about people returning to work, prime minister Johnson made a telling statement underlining the value of face-to-face interaction. He said: “There’s a balance. We have learnt a lot of lessons during this crisis, about the potential of technology, but I think there are also limits to this technology and is no substitute for face-to-face meetings and interactions.”
The Government released its official guidance for conferences and meetings on 24 June. Read the Meetings Industry Association's full safety criteria here.
Simon Hughes, chair of the Business Visits and Events Partnership expressed his delight. He said: “After several months of lobbying, and providing significant amounts of evidence and research to government, and working closely in partnership with our colleagues at DCMS, we are delighted that today the prime minister has finally announced a Go Date of 1 October for the recommencement of business events and exhibitions, subject to the successful completion of some pilot events."
Hughes added that the industry is still facing challenges. He added: “While this news will come as a great relief to the entire events industry, we are still conscious that the sector will require significant support going forward, as it looks to rebuild and renew, and we will continue to engage with government to look at practical ways to ensure that our world class industry continues to thrive and support the UK’s overall recovery over the years to come.
“We also look forward to working with DCMS to ensure a successful outcome of the pilot scheme, and will provide further updates to the industry as soon as we are able.
“Finally, we would like to thank the entire events industry for their patience, resilience and support that they have demonstrated over what has been an incredibly challenging few months, and we look forward to working together, with one voice, as we look towards the next stage of our recovery.”
Lex Butler, the chair of the Hotel Booking Agents Association (HBAA) was equally delighted to see a restart date, but stressed the importance of reading the small print. She said: “At long last, finally we have a date to work to and the uncertainty is over, after all the hard work in lobbying and making preparations to ensure the safety of delegates and staff.
“It’s great news, but we’re reserving our celebrations until we see the small print.”
Jane Longhurst, chief executive of The Meetings Industry Association also welcomed the prime minister’s announcement that major business meetings and events can restart, ‘subject to pilots’, from 1 October, as part of the latest easing of lockdown restrictions.” She said: “The impact of Covid-19 on the business meetings and events sector has been devastating so we are delighted with today’s announcement that we now have a timeframe to work to and recommence. Its positive proof that the Government has been listening to the sector and understands that we can open safely.
“We are currently awaiting the detail of the pilot events, but we do know they are to offer Public Health England the chance to test the industry’s ability to hold major events with large numbers of people.
“We also understand that the guidance, which we can expect any day, will include the news that Covid-Secure venues can immediately open for events up to 30 people [Conference News is trying to confirm this], which is a fantastic step forward.
“To ensure that we reopen and operate in a Covid-Secure way, it will be imperative that the sector follows the guidance when it is issued by Government as well as the mia’s Roadmap to reopening and operating safely. And, as further proof of the fact that venues are COVID-Secure, we would suggest that venues add AIM Secure into their planning.”