Post IFB2014 – What has it meant for Liverpool and for UK business as a whole?

Posted on 2nd November 2014 | Interviews

Post IFB2014 – What has it meant for Liverpool and for UK business as a whole?

In case you’ve been living under a rock for the last twelve months or so, this year was the first time the UK played host to the International Festival For Business, a celebration of global entrepreneurial and industrial achievement where for the first time ever the UK had the opportunity to show the world the best of British business and industry.

The venue? The iconic city of Liverpool. Taking time out of her very busy diary to talk to us, Chief Executive of Liverpool Chamber of Commerce, Jenny Stewart gave her account of just what IFB2014 has done for Liverpool, the region and the rest of UK Plc.

The interview

Rob: Thanks for talking with us this morning Jenny, I know our audience will be very interested in hearing your take on how things went this summer. In the immediate of wake of IFB2014 what is the vibe in Liverpool right now and how are people feeling about it all?

Jenny: It’s a really positive vibe right now in Liverpool because it’s really reinforced all the positive things we felt about the city. Nobody knew before just how much interest it was going to create outside the city, both nationally and internationally and people who’ve visited Liverpool for the first time have really seen just what an incredible place it is to live, work and do business.

Rob: Commercially speaking, do you feel IFB achieved it’s aims and objectives?

Jenny: The IFB was just part of an ongoing programme that Liverpool has been putting together for a number of years now. When we won the European Capital of Culture bid for 2008, that investment enabled us to make use of our Objective One Funding which came from Europe. That rare opportunity of economic development and cultural development coming together, that created a really powerful ambition from Liverpool businesses and people who work in the city which was a real inspiration to us. The IFB was an event that really came together from Lord Heseltine who challenged us ‘could we pull an event like this off?’ We managed to get over 140 countries involved and as a chamber we are part of an overseas network of 41 British chambers, 31 of which actually came to the festival. This really gave us a platform to go to the overseas chambers and the World Chambers Federation and begin to encourage international trade with Liverpool and the UK so that we can really continue to grow our exports moving forward.

Rob: When do you think we’ll really see the impact of the big deals that have taken place as a result of IFB this year?

Jenny: We’ve already seen some big deals happening during and since the festival. This is giving us confidence to start negotiating better and clearly the Chancellor has felt the confidence of it’s success as he’s agreed to hold the festival in Liverpool again in 2016 but I think this is really only the start point and we’ll continue to feel the impact the festival has had for a long time yet.

Rob: And what about the SME market in the region specifically? It’s been said recently that 85% of the region’s economy is driven by SME’s, so what do you think an event like IFB will do for SME’s in the long term?

Jenny: When this concept of IFB was first put together I think small businesses couldn’t quite understand how they were able to make an impact through an event like this but as the festival kicked off and the fringe event programme came into force, there became a realisation that this is about international trade and taking the opportunity to connect with other cities both around the UK and internationally or as one small business owner put it ‘trading beyond your shoes’ which can really benefit both large and small businesses.

Rob: There’s been a lot of talk about the skills gap and how we bridge that gap here in the UK. What will IFB have done to help that issue if anything?

Jenny: There’s an awful lot of work going on in the city right now under the apprenticeship programme and Liverpool Chamber of Commerce is one the organisations leading that strategy for example the work we’re doing to develop apprenticeship schemes for international trade and logistics specifically as well as operating under other frameworks such as customer service, marketing and retail. The important thing is making sure we’re being proactive to develop the right skills in the right sectors for the future. Over the last 12 months we’ve grown our apprentice base working for small businesses in the region from 170 to 365, we’ve doubled our contract with the skills funding agency in the last year so we can actually provide that training for apprentices and our aim is to continue building and to redouble that work in the next 2 years.

Rob: It sounds like a really exciting time then with lots of positivity coming out of this year’s festival and lots to look forward to moving forward?

Jenny: Absolutely. Everything that we’ve seen so far has been incredible in promoting Liverpool as a port and as a thriving city for the future and we’ve got a lot to look forward to commercially.