1 November 2022, London Marriott Hotel County Hall
21 November 2022, Hilton London Metropole
12 December 2022, etc.venues Monument, London
UK TRAVEL MANAGEMENT companies could be among the biggest beneficiaries of the government's comprehensive spending review outlined in the House of Commons as Buying Business Travel went to press last month. Even as he wielded the axe, Chancellor George Osborne made it clear that he expects the private sector to fill the gaps left by his £83 billion purge on profligacy, with non-core functions - such as travel procurement - to be farmed out from Whitehall to the wider world.
Flanked by Prime Minister David Cameron and Liberal Democrat Chief Secretary to the Treasury Danny Alexander, Osborne revealed that "every major government department" is being told to reduce its administrative spend by one-third. Much of that saving will come from the loss, over the next four years, of 490,000 public sector jobs.
However, travel professionals reckon they are well placed to save even more money - which will no doubt please Topshop's top man Sir Philip Green who earlier set a particularly feral cat among the civil service procurement pigeons when he produced his report on "shocking" and "unacceptable" levels of waste.
Commissioned by the prime minister to conduct a snap investigation into government spending habits, the multimillionaire Arcadia boss did not pull his punches.
The government spends £38 million a year on 400,000 room-nights in London alone - an average of £95 a night. Some rooms, however, cost just £77, while others stretched the budget at £117. To hire a Ford Mondeo for a day, Sir Philip discovered, cost the government anything from £27 to £119. Ian Burnley, chief executive of Expotel - which is accredited by the Office of Government Commerce's Buying Solutions unit - remains unmoved.
"The most important part of controlling hotel and travel spend is to ensure only essential trips and meetings are undertaken," he says. "Through increased discipline across the public-sector clients we handle, the volume of spend has dropped 30 per cent on average in recent months."
Burnley clearly believes there is scope for more travel cost-cutting - which is just as well, since Osborne's headline figures are huge. The Foreign & Commonwealth Office has to reduce spending by 24 per cent by 2014/15; Theresa May's Home Office and Ken Clarke's justice ministry both have to find annual savings of six per cent; and Vince Cable is expected to save 7.1 per cent per annum at the Department of Business, Innovation and Skills. Even the Queen has been driven to austerity measures - Royal Household spending has to come down by 14 per cent by 2012/13.
Local authority grants will also be slashed, again by 7.1 per cent per annum, although councils are to be given greater freedom to spend their money as they choose. Historically, local government revenue grants to councils have been ear-marked for specific purposes, but from next April the number of "protected grants" is to fall from more than 90 to fewer than 10.
TRAIN OPERATING COMPANIES may be forced to follow the airlines' lead - already taken up by Eurostar - and introduce a Premium Economy equivalent to prevent a modal shift back to domestic air and road travel.
Matt Selby, sales and marketing director at Capita Business Travel, says potentially huge rail fare rises could prompt corporates to move back to increasingly-competitive domestic air services.
"The government is clearly looking to move the cost burden from the taxpayer to the user," he says. "There may well have to be quite a bit of fare restructuring to get people back into First Class, but under a different name."
Transport Secretary Philip Hammond has said that rail fares will rise by between 30 and 40 per cent over the next four years - in return for which he has secured Treasury commitment to capital investment in Crossrail and the development of Britain's high-speed rail network.
Selby remains concerned that government subsidy reductions will hamper train operators' efforts to invest in new rolling stock, just when corporates are down-grading from empty First Class carriages to overcrowded Standard Class compartments.
According to the Association of Train Operating Companies (ATOC), revenue from ticket sales accounts for roughly half the £12bn cost of Britain's railways, with the taxpayer footing the other £6bn.