Are we making the most of our assets? 

Gregg Hutchings of BOP Consulting reports back from the Local Government Association’s Culture, Tourism and Sport Annual Conference (3-4 March 2014 in Portsmouth).

12 March 2014

(Image credit: Lusas website)

Portsmouth was a fitting place to consider how to maximise cultural and sporting assets to create places where people want to live, visit and work.The Mary Rose Museum illustrated the 35 year journey necessary to preserve the iconic ship, create a heritage attraction and develop an educational facility. Portsmouth FC, rising out of the ashes of administration, showed how it was possible to rebuild an organisation through community ownership but also the many challenges that came with it. An evening in the Spinnaker Tower demonstrated how flagship iconic buildings can drive tourism and provide local employment, given the time and willingness to embrace risk. Together, they show how you need a long-term plan and a diverse and well-supported offer to drive economic and social change in a locality.

An impressive cohort of speakers was assembled to inspire the gathered council members, officers and partner agencies in relation to culture, tourism, heritage and sport’s role in local life. They included the Secretary of State, Maria Miller, and the Chairs of Arts Council England, Visit England, Sport England and English Heritage. Of particular note were Peter Bazalgette (ACE) and Viscountess Penny Cobham (Visit England).

Sir Peter put on an engaging show, illustrating the strong funding partnership between Arts Council and local authorities even in tough times. The challenge which he lay down was for proactive joint effort between these partners to spread awareness in Whitehall and Westminster of the potential of culture to help meet wider social objectives. He spoke about the need for “holistic public investment in the arts” which could maximise this opportunity. It will be interesting to see how the Council members will respond to this call to action. He also spoke about a fresh report called “Wider Benefits of Arts and Culture to Society” which will come out this week.

Tourism featured heavily across the conference. An upbeat speech from Lady Cobham addressed the ways in which Visit England was working to promote and work with local areas to maximise the benefits that tourism brings. She pointed out that despite new markets opening up internationally from places such as China, visitors from the United States still made up the largest share of international visitors.

Another seminar picked up the tourism thread, looking at the differing experiences in York and West Oxfordshire. Visit York and local businesses are apparently forming a new company to boost its profile and brand internationally, using the I Amsterdammodel. It was interesting to note that a real concern from local government colleagues was how to measure the impact of their investment in tourism.

Reflecting the post-London 2012 world we are in, there was also plenty of talk across the conference on how to use national commemorations or events to drive culture, heritage and tourism work. HLF talked about its work to support First World War commemoration activity, while the celebrations to mark the 800 years of the Magna Carta were also mentioned.

Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs) were a focus of workshop conversation that flowed into the wider conference discussion. The consensus seemed to be that they were only patchily engaged with the creative industries, nor they didn’t seem to be accessible to local authorities. However, Maria Miller appeared not to agree and felt that LEPs were serious about the creative economy.

The role of libraries featured in another session, looking at their role in terms of welfare reform and in particular the role they could play in helping people adapt to policies such as universal credit. Janene Cox, President of Society of Chief Librarians, described the important work underway that libraries play in helping fill the gaps in computer access and IT skills for the 8 million people in the UK who lack access to the internet.

All in all, a diverse discussion took place across the conference on unlocking the potential of local assets in difficult times. A strong theme emerged: public sector investment needs more than ever to be backed with good evidence to reassure decision-makers that the money is being appropriately spent.

If you have any questions about the conference email me at or leave a comment below and I will do my best to answer them!

A slightly extended version of this blog can also be found at the BOP Consulting website here. You can also follow Gregg on Twitter – @Gregg_H

You may also be interested in Connected London, A New Direction’s local government and place-based partnerships and innovation programme.

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