The real cost of party conference season

David Cameron

The political party conference season gets under way today with the Lib Dems’ gathering in Bournemouth. But what is the actual cost of these annual shindigs? 

Fundraising is rife, to say the least, when it comes to the annual political conferences. Potential attendees are invited to pay around £900 for entry as a commercial guest, about £15,000 to book small exhibition spaces and £12,500 for a premium table package at one of the conference dinners. Meanwhile, a ‘literature rack’ to distribute newspapers/magazines costs £11,000 for the week and having your logo emblazoned on a reusable ‘conference bag’ costs £15,000.

In 2012, a paper by Policy Review Intelligence (a Westminster-based policy hub) warned that many businesses were withdrawing from party conferences because of these costs.

“An exhibition, several commercial passes, a fringe meeting within the secure area, speakers and staff costs and there is little change from £10,000 and if that is multiplied by three conferences the costs become prohibitive at time of austerity,” said The Policy Review Intelligence paper at the time. “As a consequence many of the major lobby firms, companies, charities and cities either miss out on some of the conferences, attend only for prearranged private dinners, do not bring their chief executives or key personalities and risk their reputation or don’t attend at all.”

But these occasions do appear to give a little back, too, especially to the host cities. The 14,000 delegates who attended the 2014 Conservative party conference injected an estimated £17m into the Birmingham economy. Of course, there are expenses, too – the same conference in Birmingham’s ICC included a floating police station created on a narrowboat (cost unknown).

Cities hoping the figures will balance in their favour this year are Brighton (Labour party, 27-30 September), Bournemouth (Liberal Democrats, 19-23 September; Green party, 25-28 September), Manchester (Conservatives, 4-7 October), Aberdeen (SNP, 15-17 October), Aberystwyth (Plaid Cymru, 23-24 October) and Doncaster (Ukip, 24-26 September).

About author

Nick Scott

Nick Scott

A former editor-in-chief of The Rake and deputy editor of the Australian edition of GQ, Nick has had features published in titles including Esquire, The Guardian, Observer Sport Monthly and Rolling Stone Australia and is a contributing editor to Director magazine. He has interviewed celebrities including Hugh Jackman, Daniel Craig and Elle Macpherson, as well as business people including Sir Richard Branson, Charles Middleton and Nick Giles and Michael Hayman MBE.

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