Magpie 34 – Global Forum 94: An Historical Report

Thompson, P. (1994) Global Forum 94: An Historical Report. Magpie, 34, pp. 12-13.

A Historical Report by Paula Thompson 

Global Forum ’94 has been plagued by bad management and lack of financial support. As the event approaches it is still trying to recoup the £3.5 million it has already spent. Meanwhile despite the problems of the ‘core conference’ on cities, local charity groups have rallied round to fund their own environmental festival which is proving to be well worth watching  

Global Fiasco – what went wrong

Global Forum ’94 promised to be the biggest world environmental event since the Rio Earth Summit in 1992. We were told that 10,000 delegates from 50 cities around the world and 200.000 members of the public would come to Manchester for this environmental extravaganza. We were promised cultural events, public environmental meetings, a market and of course the tree of life – a bronze model towering over Manchester to remind us of our commitment to environmental change. 

The latter day Global Forum ’94 starts in three weeks – a shadow of its former self – with a maximum of around 600 delegates from 50 cities attending. It won’t be held on the original four acre site in Castlefield. but in the Free Trade Hall. And it won’t be an extravaganza – just a plain old environmental conference. 

But what makes Global Forum ’94 different from other environmental get-togethers is its cost. Because unlike other small scale events, the bill is a staggering £3.5 million so far. In the heat of the final few weeks. Global Forum are still trying to raise finance to see them through to the end – but the question on everybody’s lips : “Why has Global Forum ’94 cost so much money”?

Councillor Arnold Spencer. Deputy Chairman of the Board of Global Forum Directors explains “The initial budget for Global Forum was wrong, we hired a lot of people for a festival that never took place. The cost of inviting delegates. interpreting facilities. room hire. etc.: it just adds up”. As Global Forum looks likely to surpass the excessive £3.5 million mark in the next few weeks it’s hard to believe it’s added up to this. 

Global Forum’s main sponsor is Manchester Airport, pitching in £500.000 and lending Airport boss Sir Gil Thompson as Global Forum’s third chief executive. Manchester City Council contributed around £500,000 and the European Community chipped in around £1.6 million leaving an apparent hole in the Global Forum Budget of £900.000 and rising. (And it’s all our money – Ed.) Local charity groups are grieved by the amount of money spent on Global Forum. 

According to Unity Kelly of Manchester Wildlife. “£3.5 million given to local charities would have done more good than several Global Forums. There should be an independent audit to find out where the money’s gone”. Paul Sangumazzi of Manchester F.o.E. adds: “The money could have been better spent on improving energy efficiency and reducing traffic congestion in the city”.  

What went wrong runs from the obvious to the unfortunate. For example, back at the start, when dates were set, Global Forum bosses failed to notice that the event coincided with Wimbledon and the World Cup. And was Global Forum’s Patron, the Duke of Westminster, a wise choice in view of his poor reputation with Environmentalists? Global Forum’s timing was unfortunate in other ways as well. It fell in the wake of the failed Olympic bid and raising cash at the end of a bitter recession wasn’t easy for organisers. It should also be questioned whether the world was ready for another Rio only two years after the first. Unity Kelly adds: “Global Forum hadn’t got a product that anyone wanted. It was just a set of grandiose ideas way beyond reality conceived from a union of investors, the council and those jumping on the environmental bandwagon*. 

But the root of Global Forum’s problems must lie in its pervasive management difficulties. The original chief executive Dave Spooner was ousted early on and replaced by ex-Rio organiser Chip Lindner. For a while, Lindner seemed to be in control – but in reality he was having problems convincing the people of Manchester to pay to come to Global Forum. 

In November 1993 things took a turn for the worst when Lindner upset local Trade Unionists by sacking five staff. Meanwhile, Global Forum hit financial difficulties – the original budget of around £3 million escalated to £8 million with no sign of any further sponsorship. 

Lindner’s demise was underway and he resigned in February 1994 due to disagreements with the board. In the same week 30 staff were made redundant and all events were dropped except the core conference. Chip Lindner went public saying: “The event is destined to fail – the level of political, public and financial support is much less than expected”. After a public relations disaster of this scale, enthusiasm for the event was hard to muster. 

Since then, Global Forum has limped along, confusing local environmental groups. changing the costs and the basis for admission to the event, whilst trying to persuade international delegates that it’s still worth their while attending. At the end of the day we have an environmental conference for 600 delegates at a price of at least £6,000 per head. But what’s in it for Manchester? Arnold Spencer adds “The impact of Global Forum on the general population of Manchester will be very small indeed but for Manchester as a city of international standing it will do a great deal”. Really? 

The above is the first episode of an article commissioned by the Manchester Evening News, but never published. In the next Magpie we will be bringing you the second episode – What Went Right.

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