Philip Paris: “The summer was increasingly positive for business as an overwhelmingly ‘staycationing’ British public found our members’ fairs nationwide… Happily, they liked what they experienced”

Philip Paris Showmen's Guild of Great Britain
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2021 was a tough year for the Showmen sector on the fairs front, but its reach within political circles was certainly bolstered. There was a listening at all levels of the political ladder from government down to local councils. Although Philip Paris feels like “it’s déjà vu… 2022 looks like starting in a similar way”, the Showmen’s Guild is definitely starting the new year in a different – the sector has become a new influencer in the political arena.

 

PHILIP PARIS PRESIDENT SHOWMEN’S GUILD OF GREAT BRITAIN

 

Coinslot: A year that opened in lockdown, staggered through to reopening, via a supply chain crisis and ending with Omicron: how will you look back on 2021?

Philip Paris: 2021 started as a never-ending story from 2020 with greater uncertainty than the year that preceded it. We had managed to navigate our way back to opening in the summer of 2020 after working hard to establish who in government had responsibility offer our sector, a status that other associations have equally attested to experiencing.

Now it’s déjà vu… 2022 looks like starting in a similar way – except that we have the vaccine and we have the booster…

With Guidance that we had and with those local authorities who would work with us and our members, summer 2020 had been good for them; until it dwindled with the November lockdown; then again, after flickers in December, at Christmas.

Conversely, our parliamentary recognition had increased with a Westminster Hall debate in December 2020, spawning a ministerial meeting in January 2021 and further support both from our APPG on fairs & Showgrounds and on the floor of the House of Commons; as well as and in Holyrood.

The DCMS in Westminster also continued to work with us in spring 2021 on negotiating reopening in Stage 2 of the Roadmap, as ‘Visitor Attractions’ rather than ‘Events’, which had to wait for Stage 4; whilst Circuses were in Stage 3 in May. This 10 week head-start for fairs (5 weeks for circuses) was as bittersweet concession however, with the greater reluctance of local authorities and regional Directors of Public Health to work with us and for them to even understand the very same Government Guidance that applied to them, that we were working from.

Equally, there was a mismatch between the various local grants that government departments initiated and the local authorities who, possibly overwhelmed were, more often than not, reluctant to administer as intended; even with ministers and the Local Government Association (LGA) on our side.

We had some regional results through persistence and in Scotland, as a devolved territory, a sector-specific fund was set up by Holyrood.

In Northern Ireland there were positive discussions between our team and the Finance Minister; whereas in Wales assistance in access to operating-locations, or alternatively grants, was sporadic apart from at the coast, but with later season success.

The summer was nevertheless increasingly positive for business as an overwhelmingly ‘staycationing’ British public found our members’ fairs nationwide, often surprisingly closer to where they lived than alternative entertainment possibilities further from home. Happily, they liked what they experienced, in the Fresh Air and acting responsibly, as we had promised the government nationally and locally that they would.

Coinslot: We’ve had five months since re-opening, what were your highlights of the year?

Philip Paris: The news in the April budget on our Red diesel continued tax discount after April2021, will soften the blow to our members’ attempts to recover and reset their businesses, as they work with us as a sector to reduce our carbon footprint in the medium and long term.

I was pleased to help shape the details with the Treasury officials to go into the autumn Finance Bill.

Having 1596 fairs, in all settings, operated, currently operating and planned up to year-end since 12th April, is a healthy tally, considering the delayed start to this year’s season (which is usually Easter nationally and earlier for several members) and the starting gun for us in Stage 2 of the government’s roadmap to recovery.

Whilst fewer than in a non-covid year, all our members’ fairs were well-attended and with an increasingly acquiescent series of local authorities, after a hesitant start, as the season progressed and as they saw how well our members administered all the Covid-secure measures that we had agreed with national government and the HSE.

Particularly for me, Burntisland in Fife taking place at all was an achievement and we have won increased respect from the authorities for in Scotland for our considerable planning arrangements.

Similarly, Beaconsfield Charter Fair took place as a streetfair and the largest activity to date in the UK on its 801st annual operation on 10th May.

Taking the season up to date, I am proud that our members are currently instrumental in keeping many of the lights on at London’s Hyde Park Winter Wonderland; as well as at the 35+ other similar ventures across Britain, including Manchester, Liverpool, Portsmouth, Newcastle, Edinburgh and the Iron Bru Winter Carnival at Glasgow’s SEC, as Europe’s largest indoor funfair, which I myself shall be trading at, so will experience this renaissance first hand.

There is caution of course right now with the long- discussed, though suddenly implemented ‘Plan B’ by the Prime Minister; we consistently argued against ‘Covid-passports’ at fairs, so far successfully, with our other Covid-mitigations and our USP of Fresh-Air ambience.

However, we are aware of the vulnerability of our members’ Corporate Fairs that are usually operated for Christmas staff parties and product launches.

It is hoped that this segment of the Show business will not be too seriously affected and that it will grow back next season; aided by the joint lobbying and support of the wider Event Industry, with whom the Showmen’s Guild increasingly works.

Coinslot: 2021 has been a major challenge to the way our businesses operate. How have your members risen to this challenge and what new developments are they introducing to rebuild and strengthen your operation?

Philip Paris: Our members are looking to even greater use of technology to reduce dependence on staff, who have been missing from the supply chain over the last two seasons and frankly, following Brexit, as well as being compounded by the pandemic.

We are getting used to further close-working relationships with colleague trade associations in the event and wider outdoor leisure sector, on issues of mutual interest.

We’re also forging closer parliamentary working relationships with Westminster Holyrood and Stormont; with the Senedd in Cardiff a work in progress.

We are hopeful of a regrouping of our APPG on Fairs and Showgrounds in Westminster, following the tragic assassination of the APPG’s Chair, of Sir David Ames MP in October.

The corresponding Cross-Party Group in Holyrood remains similarly important, especially in the light of the slower return to opening of the economy there and following the, hopefully temporary, stalling of the reform of the onerous Licensing of Fairs legislation conditions north of the border.

We are encouraging ever-closer engagement politically as an everyday-skill that all of our members should be conversant in locally, from now on; dovetailing with our own clearer and decisive message to political leaders regionally and nationally, of the contribution that the Showmen and Showwomen make to the UK, financially and culturally, with their fairs and shows.

The increased level of customer care, embracing the continuing Covid mitigations; which many of our members already opted to retain as best practice throughout the season; is scoring highly with our customers, including the more cautious Coinslot December 17 – December 30, 2021 | 31 Review 2021 among them.

Greater advance, transparent, communication; including online of precautions; customer care and enhancements; along with on-site clear communication; spacious layout (where possible) and greater personal interaction; is assisting the now-savvy customers to act with their heads, then vote with their feet in attending in greater numbers.

In short, our customers are making an active, considered choice to attend our fairs and their participation cannot be taken for granted.

The switch to cashless payment among dynamic payment options, is progressing apace at fairs nationwide; in keeping with the transition to card and phone payment, driven by the natural choice of the customers.

This will grow further and in so doing, the greater number of attractions and even whole visits that can be advanced-booked, will create more certainty to what was previously fickle attendance.

Customer behaviour at current winter events underline this shift.

Learning during and learning from the pandemic: The Pandemic has seen schools nationwide close and a variety of attempts to shoehorn a full in-person educational curriculum into equivalent hour-by hour Zoom etc classes, like a Netflix box-set to view daily. This has been a particular challenge thrust on unsuspecting families, unplanned and at a moment’s notice.

By contrast, whilst not immune from this; the experience of the Show Children and their families; for whom Working From Home and Distance Learning in proportional, rationally- planned, structured work is second nature; is arguably far less challenged – albeit that the touring element of their lives had been interrupted.

They had, arguably, better preparation to cope with the situation. The focus on life-long learning is of continuing importance.

Coinslot: What are you looking or hoping f or in 2022 and what’s on your New Year’s wish list?

Philip Paris: A closer dialogue with and greater understanding from Directors of Public Health at all levels, of The Showmen’s Guild. our members and the fairs that they curate on behalf of local communities nationwide; would be a leap forward in these uncertain times, especially as all 137 of them nationwide were thrust into decision making on a whole sector of the economy and UK culture, without any prior understanding nor experience of it.

Equally, an appreciation of the economic, cultural and active health benefits of our unique outdoor entertainment by local authorities, on a more consistent basis, would go a long way, with greater forward-planning by them with us, as an important part of each business community; rather than them seeing us as ‘fair-weather friends’ visiting their jurisdictions just as a bonus finance-source by turn and cast aside when it suits them; as against their having more generous relationships with other fixed businesses in their areas of governance.

As with everyone in the Sector, we look forward to a time when coronavirus is under control and managed by the combination of vaccination and sensible mitigations and would like to think that we have helped in leading by example on both.

We have been pleased, on behalf of some of our members, to have made the most of the opportunities afforded by the temporary reduced VAT rate of initially 5% and now12.5%.

We have been at the forefront of advocating the extension of each reduction in recent months and would urge the Chancellor to revisit this; so as to retain lower VAT rates for entertainment and hospitality for the 2022 season; as we continue our efforts to trade our way to recovery – a promise that we made to the government.

Finally, as Christmas marks the end of my term of Presidency of the Showmen’s Guild nearing in January, I would like to wish all our members Season’s Greetings and wish them well in their businesses and livelihoods, following as we all do, the honourable craft of Showmanship.

It has been an honour to serve as President, with my Vice Presidents, Officials, Management and regional teams, especially through these turbulent times; with now some hope in sight for a brighter future for us all once again.

 

 


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