We were at the LG Annual Conference last week and I just wanted to capture some observations. Firstly – and most notably – it’s the first time that a serving prime minister has been there and it did bring a frisson to delegates. It was clear, however, that the audience for his speech was not in the room and this was a platform to talk to the national press about pension reform and the planned strikes. Am I naive to find this a bit insulting to the delegates? No attempt to demystify the Big Society, no talk about economic reform and economic localism, but a lot of talk about other people’s pensions. I was disappointed and I guess resigned to the fact that Cameron does, indeed, intend to leave us to Mr Pickles’ mercy. Eek.
I missed Nick Clegg because I was busy on the stand, but did see Ed Miliband give a variation of the speech we heard a number of times that week – and then answer questions very fluently.
There were fewer people there than usual, more day delegates and smaller groups from councils. That isn’t surprising given the climate. However the atmosphere was actually positive – far more so than last year when (most) people still had a sense of euphoria from the election but no real idea what the impending cuts were going to mean. This year the mood was more settled and people are clearly getting through the planning and adjustment process.
With respect to our conversations – about using new technologies to support democratic and civic engagement – it was interesting how much more open people were to doing things differently. People who have repeatedly told us they were not interested, wanted to talk about webcasting and we had some lengthy conversations about how councils can respond to the fact that communities are increasingly active online. I don’t know if it’s because of more younger members, the financial pressures, or a general social change in technology adoption, but there was definitely something in the air.
And, finally, a few more inwardly focused points for us as a business…
This is a conference that we have attended for nearly 10 years and so we know (and like!) a lot of people. When I became chief executive last year and we started to widen our strategic direction beyond webcasting a lot of people were very kind about it but in a polite way. They really couldn’t see the difference. What was brilliant for us this year was that we were able to show a huge change in our range and types of products and a much more useful set of solutions to help engage more people in the decision people process. Lots of the people who came to the stand because they know us left with information and ideas that they were excited about. I just wanted to finish by thanking the team here for working so hard over the last 18 months to make this happen.