Pink slips for COVID-bruised NEC Group staff

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NEC Group cuts staff Image: NEC Group

UK’s NEC Group has outlined plans to give the pink slips to more than half its permanent employees due to the devastating impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on its operations.

NEC Group is the UK’s leading live events business operating in exhibitions, conferences, music, sports, family entertainment and hospitality.

The UK group, which operates five venues, including the National Exhibition Centre in Birmingham, said it plans to retain only a base level of staff until it is again able to stage a huge number of big-ticket events. Its restructure will potentially impact the permanent positions of approximately 450 people, which equates to around 55 percent of its permanent workforce.

Justifying its decision to give the marching orders to employees, the NEC Group said that it has brought in almost no revenue since March 2020 when COVID-19 first stung the world, compared to £160m in the previous year. It said it faces the prospect of a total period of around 18 months with minimal activity due to which its coffers have gone dry. This includes time to get back to pre-pandemic operational levels.

The group, whose venues stage concerts, exhibitions and conferences, has also been unable to access the UK Government’s Job Support Scheme as its businesses are not currently able to operate.

The UK Government’s Job Support Scheme is designed to protect viable jobs in businesses that are facing lower demand over the winter months due to coronavirus, to help keep their employees attached to the workforce.

Chief Executive Paul Thandi said the company has been forced to take the above decision after hopes that venues might be able to reopen from the beginning of October were halted by the authorities as the United Kingdom is again staring at COVID-19 cases resurfacing.

Remarked Thandi, “It has been an extremely difficult decision to make, but if we have any chance of surviving the current market conditions, and returning to being a major economic contributor, post-pandemic, we must reduce our cost base significantly. The retraction of the 1st October date, which would have permitted us to hold trade exhibitions and conferences with over 30 visitors, was a major blow.”

The NEC Group owns and operates the NEC and ICC conference venues, arenas in Birmingham City Centre and at Resorts World, as well as ticketing business The Ticket Factory and caterer Amadeus.

The group operates the NEC and ICC conference venues, as well as the Utilita Arena Birmingham, formerly the Barclaycard Arena, and Resorts World Arena on the NEC campus. It also owns caterer Amadeus, premium hospitality provider Amplify and national ticketing agency The Ticket Factory.

Thandi added, “Like all major venues, the group has implemented stringent safety measures to ensure its venues can safely host business events and conferences, and welcome back the staffs who have been on furlough since April. For companies like us, with minimal levels of activity, we are unable to make use of the Government’s recently announced Job Support Scheme.”

He further observed, “This, together with this sector’s inability to access the £1.57bn culture support package, has added to what has become an unsustainable position. Live events are integral to long-term economic recovery. We ask that the Government work with strategic economic assets like us, to ensure that a balanced and fast-moving economy remains to face the challenges beyond 2020.”

NEC Group usually hosts 750 events per year which attract more than seven million visitors. It claims to support around 29,000 jobs.

In July, Thandi predicted that no indoor arena events will take place in 2020 and forecast it would take “two or three years” for the business to bounce back.

Earlier this month, in response to the Chancellor’s Winter Economic Plan, the NEC Group demanded the establishment of a Government endorsed, proven testing/track and trace program that allows venues to offer enhanced safety. It also requested targeted financial support bespoke to the sector and commitment to a full or participative review of the opening criteria for venues.

The group said at the time: “As an organization who played such a pivotal role in the national effort to combat this virus, transforming our venue into the NHS Nightingale Birmingham, we now need UK Government to show the same commitment to our cause and offer tailored support to the UK live events sector.”

The UK Government’s Winter Economy Plan package includes a new Jobs Support Scheme to protect millions of returning workers, extending the Self Employment Income Support Scheme and 15 percent VAT cut for the hospitality and tourism sectors, and help for businesses in repaying Government-backed loans.

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