15 October 2013 by David Smith, FIA, FIRESA Secretary

The Emergency Services Show in September proved a fantastic success with visitor numbers up 6% on the previous year, this in spite of the FBU strike which coincided with the first day of the exhibition and which did, it appears, rather deplete the appearance of Chief Fire Officers and Fleet Managers. Reports back from our fire-fighting members are positive and it was especially pleasing that we were able to co-sponsor with the exhibition organisers the Drinks Reception held at close of play on the first day. Thanks to the FIRESA Council members for stumping up for lashings of beer, wine and twiglets and not least to David, Lesley and Emma at Broden Media for making it all happen.

 PIcture of FIRESA Council at the ES Show

Next year’s ES Show is again at the Birmingham NEC over 24th-25th September for those of you that have already rushed to Rymans to buy your 2014 diary pages for the trusty personal organiser. Like many, I have to keep several electronic diaries going but am I the only one who still relies on a paper diary as the definitive record of appointments? Perhaps so, in which case you would not be surprised to learn that I still play vinyl on a turntable and have a video recorder plugged into the telly although I do draw the line at sitting at home trying to play ‘Home On The Range’ on the stylophone while wearing a tank top and eating an entire arctic roll that hasn’t been properly defrosted.

I’ve always been a bit ambivalent about exhibitions, less regarding their value but more concerning my own presence at them. Moving from research into the commercial world some years ago now, I was thrust into stand duty armed with a list of dos and don’ts that made Marcel Proust’s ‘A la Recherche Du Temps Perdu’ look like a hastily-scribbled post-it note. Our MD at the time would issue severe reprimands to any staff caught in an unguarded moment leaning at any greater than 3o from the vertical.

Perhaps I shouldn’t let early episodes of that sort cast its chilling shadow over more recent and much more amenable experiences but as Sigmund Freud once said, ‘a certain degree of neurosis is of inestimable value as a drive’ although he also said ‘time spent with cats is never wasted’ which I’m not so sure about. First impressions affect us all and there will be many out there that don’t like sprouts for the very reason that they were made to eat a whole pile of undercooked specimens at Auntie Joan’s that Whitsun weekend back in 1978. We didn’t have that trouble at our house as my dear old mum adopted a scorched earth policy as far as sprouts were concerned which was pretty much that if you could still count them they weren’t done.

Our members tend to have equivocal views on exhibitions, often bemoaning both their incidence and their cost but more often than not coming away from any given show with a warm glow conferred by contacts made and business opportunities germinated. If one Export Council member recently described an exhibition that shall remain nameless as ‘probably the worst exhibition I have ever seen’, this is thankfully the exception rather than the rule. It would be wrong, however, to dismiss the financial and manpower burden that companies must endure when exhibiting their wares at several relevant UK events as well as those overseas territories where the travel and freighting costs are necessarily much higher. It doesn’t help matters when in Turkey, for example, a triumvirate of shows comprising IFSEC, ISAF and TUYAK all take place this autumn within less than 60 days of each other. Organisations are more than ever choosing their targets very carefully and with the collective UK presence at particular shows often falling well below that of our key competitors, countries such as Germany are presenting an accumulative capability that carries its own easily-recognisable kudos or anhesen as the Germans themselves might say. And yes, I did have to use an English-German dictionary to bring you that one.

While in the UK, we have TAP-funding and the more recent Open To Export initiatives among those that can assist SMEs that wish to export, the reality is that our exports across all sectors are underperforming and Sterling’s depreciation [its exchange rate fell by around 25% from 2007 to 2009] has failed to halt this decline which has seen our share of the global market fall from 6.2% in 1980 to 3.4% in 2011. If this is part of a wider trend whereby developed economies have lost market share from 75% in the mid-1980s to 55% now, replaced largely by exports from developing nations, there is more that can be done by central government and others and a CBI report published this summer features several recommendations in this respect. Among them are making SMEs better aware of export assistance, offering tax credits to SMEs entering overseas markets, providing a direct export lending finance facility and looking to the EU to do more to protect its member nations’ IPR. Some of the other ideas are, let’s say, somewhat more controversial and these include revisiting the Bribery Act, relaxing night flights to and from the UK and encouraging inward migration of ‘top talent’ and these make it sound like they’ve been rooting through the bins round the back of the offices of the Adam Smith Institute.

Looking to forthcoming UK exhibitions, with the Emergency Services Show having moved to the NEC only this year, this has created a ripple effect which is a bit like a flake effect but less messy and achieved without draping oneself seductively over a wicker chair. International Firex moves from Birmingham to the London ExCeL in June 2014 and becomes an annual event while, in this maelstrom of activity, the CFOA TOG Fire Fleet and Equipment Show next year remains resolutely at its traditional Fire Service College venue. The Fire Fleet Show is a great example, rather like the FIA’s FIM Expo, of small but perfectly formed events that have significant focus and which bring their unique rewards.

The most recent exhibition I went to as a visitor was actually the London Drum Show at Olympia just last weekend and with so many people bashing away simultaneously on various drums, cymbals and percussion, the cacophony of noise is truly remarkable. And so finally, how many drummers does it take to fit a smoke alarm? The answer is ten, one to actually do the work and nine to sit around discussing how Keith Moon would have done it.