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brexit general

The Brexit effect

Tim Collett, head of live events at WRG Live, part of The Creative Engagement Group, tells Martin Fullard that the effects of Brexit on the events industry are only just being felt.

The effects of Brexit are only just starting to be felt by the events industry, according to Tim Collett, head of live events at WRG Live, part of The Creative Engagement Group. Despite the UK’s exit from the EU being confirmed a year ago, the disruption caused by the pandemic has effectively masked changes to both bureaucratic process and emotional sentiment towards British business.

With UK events companies unable to deliver internationally until very recently, the challenges in this new age are only now becoming clear.

“The Brexit effect is now becoming apparent and, of course, the pandemic, which has had a far bigger influence, has changed the face of our industry forever,” Collett says. “Over the past two years, we’ve seen a lot of change and turbulence within the agency landscape. Agencies like ourselves have been transformed into virtual event companies.”

The pandemic forced a shift towards virtual events, but as in-person events begin to return, the industry is having to adapt once again. Brexit has wrought some serious changes, to the point where WRG Live has had to audit its own supplier base to ensure it can still deliver for its clients.

“One of the things we’ve been doing over the past four years is looking at what the potential implications of Brexit could be for us as an agency and making sure that we can still deliver effectively and internationally, especially in the EU,” says Collett.

“We had to review and audit our supply chain to make sure that our suppliers could still effectively work in the EU. And that included everything from import licences tobeing able to move kit across the European border.” Collett adds: “But it was also about personnel and making sure that we have the means to deliver. It was quite an arduous task for us as an agency to do that review. And we’ve put a lot of time and effort into it to ensure we can still deliver in the EU effectively with the supply chain that we have.”

Collett says the audit was vital to confirm it was still viable to use their UK suppliers across the continent. “We’re pleased to say that all our key suppliers got through the process and gave us reassurance that they’re able to work effectively in the EU. It is going to be more administrative, for us and for our suppliers, to move people and equipment around. But, nevertheless, we’re confident in our ability to deliver.”

Visa matters

One of the biggest points of contention for the events industry post-Brexit is that of visas and work permits for British workers delivering events in the EU. Collett says the sovereignty of each of the 27 member states means that there are 27 different permutations and processes.

“The issue surrounding visas has been the biggest piece of work for us in in recent times,” he says. “Because the challenge that we face when working in the EU is every single individual member state has its own parameters over what type of work necessitates a working visa as opposed to a business visa.”

The guidance for UK nationals visiting the continent says that if you travel to the EU, Switzerland, Norway, Iceland or Liechtenstein for less than 90 days in a 180-day period, you will not need a visa or work permit for going to a business meeting. A visa would be required if an individual planned to stay for longer than 90 days.

However, a visa will be required if a person transfers from the UK branch of a company to a branch in a different country, even for a short period of time, and is also required if carrying out contracts to provide a service to a client in another country in which the employer has no presence.

But confusion reigns. The Government website says: “As a business visitor you cannot do paid or unpaid work for a UK company or as a self-employed person. You cannot do a work placement or internship or sell directly to the public or provide goods and services.”

Collett says that each individual member state has a different perspective over whether the activity one is doing necessitates a working visa. “What that means in real terms is we’ve had to seek a huge amount of legal advice from advisors,” he says. “What we must do for each country is go through everything on a role-by-role basis, explaining what each role is and what kind of activities they’ll be doing. We then analyse whether that activity carried out by that person necessitates a working visa.

“You can imagine the number of roles that we will take on-site, multiplied by the number of countries in the EU, equates to thousands of roles and permutations.”

Collett suggests there’s no clear answer across the EU. “The EUmember states have their own sovereignty when it comes to those kinds of decisions, and quite rightly, and so that is a piece of work that will be ongoing for more time to come,” he says.

Events: export success story

According to the UK Events Report 2020, which is accepted by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, the UK exports £2bn of business event services annually, and Collett firmly believes that the UK is world-leading in its creative services, which includes events and experiences as part of its offering.

“We’re renowned around the world for being not just creatively led, but also excel operationally in delivery, and being real experts around the world,” he says. “So often you’ll see UK agencies operating in far flung places. As an agency we always used to say 80% of our work is international.

“If we’re talking about where the UK fares in the global creative, experience and events industry, then it’s important to remember it is a huge exporter. We need to be sure that we can still be that driving force for UK PLC exports.”

Despite the administrative challenges, Collett says the UK’s reputation as an events powerhouse has mitigated the Brexit impact to a point. “We are highly regarded around the world, and I think we continue to be so,” he says. “For me, it is one of the mitigating factors when it comes to Brexit. If we weren’t quite so highly regarded around the world, I think we’d be suffering a lot more as an industry.”

With that in mind, Collett suggests the Government would be wise not to ignore the value of its own events industry, and to ensure it continues to be a world-leader and calls on more guidance and targeted support. The industry, he says, must be cherished.

Click here to read the feature.