Government support may be lacking, but UK event professionals should feel empowered to work in the EU, says ESSA Director Andrew Harrison.

Remember when it felt you couldn’t go a single day without hearing some mention of Brexit on the news? While the news agenda has since moved on, some ramifications of Brexit, such as the UK events industry and working abroad, are still being felt.

Brexit naturally brought about a lot of change, particularly when it comes to the processes required for the UK events industry to continue to legally work across the EU. Change always requires the need to relearn and adapt, yet the impact of Brexit, and the consequent lack of clarity and support from our own UK government, left some within our industry feeling disempowered when it comes to taking their skills and expertise abroad.

Despite the changes, the UK supply chain is undoubtedly still an integral part of the EU and our industry’s knowledge and skills are still extremely valuable as a result. The question then is how do we empower our UK event professionals to feel confident undertaking work abroad?

Providing Clarity

Ultimately, it starts with providing clarity, something the UK government has been slow to provide, when it comes to being legally compliant when working abroad, which has left many believing that the rules and regulations around working abroad are far more complicated than they actually are, and therefore not worth the effort.

Whilst it is true some processes have changed, it is not that the information is difficult to understand, but merely that it is more difficult to source the correct information in the first instance, which is what’s causing confusion.

It’s why a big part of our work here at ESSA in recent years has been helping companies identify, access and understand the information they need to successfully work abroad to restore trust and confidence both in themselves and in the wider market.

We launched our in-depth working abroad resource for our 300+ members which comprises hundreds of hours of research and information gathering in partnership with visa consultancies, country consulates as well as using our vast member network to provide a clear and simple breakdown of each country’s requirements for working abroad from an events supplier perspective. This one-stop-shop offers companies the confidence  to work on shows within the EU with relative ease.

“We’ve worked across many different EU countries in recent years, our business model depends upon it,” said Luke Facey, managing director of Alfa Display & Design Ltd.

“Post Brexit, each country published their own unique set of legal requirements to work abroad, yet information was not easy to locate and seemed unnecessarily complicated and confusing. Whilst we have always made every effort to be compliant, it really wasn’t clear if we were achieving it at times. The fact is, it’s easy when you know how, and ESSA’s concise resources removed all the ambiguity that had been tying us up in knots.”

Speeding up the process

The right information at the right time is also crucial to speed up the process and make it as seamless as possible.

Tight lead times are not something unique to working abroad - the UK events industry is no stranger to a tight deadline - but when contracts are limited to three months or less, it’s vital to have the correct information to hand to help ensure applications are completed in a timely manner.

There are also variations in rules when it comes to working abroad and whether or not it constitutes a labour or business visit. Take for example a company who builds exhibition stands. That company could exhibit or speak at a show without the need for a work visa.

Yet the team from the same company responsible for building the stand itself would require the correct paperwork to do so, and that’s when the lines can become blurred.

“We accept that factoring in additional paperwork is now a necessity, but it takes time and resources, therefore it needs to be as straightforward as possible and not act as a deterrent or cause companies to inadvertently break a rule,” explains Wayne Ball, managing director of Icon Exhibitions and Display Ltd.  

"The UK supply chain features some of the most innovative and leading-edge companies in the world which is why there is continued demand for our expertise abroad. The government has a responsibility to ensure that we can do so legally with ease."

Government support

Ensuring UK event professionals have the correct information available to them is one thing, but those offering the work also need reassurance that working with a UK contractor is a simple and straightforward process.

Whilst the UK government has done little to facilitate this to date, the Events Industry Alliance (EIA) - comprising ESSA, Association of Event Organisers (AEO) and Association of Event Venues (AEV) - has been lobbying the UK government to secure greater clarity on the issue – one of the key areas of our manifesto.

The good news is that the government is listening, and we are making progress but there is still more to be done, namely clearer guidance and messaging for all.

From a reputational point of view, we don't want the rest of Europe or the world to get the impression that the UK is shut for business in our industry – and while the EIA is making good headway achieving this, government support is needed to reverse this thinking to ensure the UK remains truly global when it comes taking our expertise abroad.

Andrew Harrison speaking in M&IT Magazine, June 2024


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The Event Supplier and Services Association (ESSA) is a trade body representing the very best contractors and suppliers of goods and services to the UK’s thriving events industry.

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