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Sorry this is a bit late, folks, have had a bunch of stuff to do since arriving home (inc local party exec and various other things) which have meant a lack of laptop time.


This meeting was the debrief after conference - going through all the feedback and working out what we can do better next time, what was good, etc. I don't propose to go through everything, but I'm going to pull out some of the bits that interested me.

The Good

The vast majority of respondents had a great experience at conference, which is obviously very pleasing. Some of the things which I thought were particularly positive:

- numbers of people saying they are really happy with all aspects of conference went up markedly on all metrics - 90% of people thought we got the balance of debate items right, for example, and the number of ppl saying conference makes them feel better about being a lib dem goes up every time.
- People really love York as a city, and the Barbican as an auditorium
- 53% of people travel to conference by train (this is consistent with previous conferences), and a growing number are doing carshares rather than just driving themselves, both of which are great for sustainable transport buffs (of which there are many in the party).
- People liked the pop-up food van in the apron of the Barbican
- several people said that Glee was the best thing about conference which made me feel all warm and mushy inside.

The Bad

The problems were mostly little niggles rather than big huge problems, which is great, but I am going to go into some detail here:

- there were some technical problems with internet feeds of debates and set pieces.
- there were some technical problems with the construction of the set - some of which we managed to solve (disabled access to the stage was solved by making a fixed bit of the set mobile, for example) and some of which we didn't (sight lines to and from the intervention mike).
- there were some technical problems with the lights which tell people when it's time to stop speaking, which in their turn caused problems in some debates (for instance, intervention speakers being given 1 minute 30 instead of 1 minute caused huge problems in the health debate)
- there were not enough conference dailies printed on one day.
- people really missed the screen which was removed from the stage set for budget reasons last conference and was missing again here.
- there are not enough rooms of a decent size for fringes, which meant that lots of people missed out on fringes that they really wanted to go to.
- there were not enough fringes, which exacerbated the overcrowding problem, and most of them were run by internal bodies rather than external sponsors
- the same thing for the exhibition: not many stands, all internal, not enough external.
- the conference hotel was horrendously, ridiculously expensive for food and drink.
- the cafe in the Barbican was overpriced and not great quality

The Ugly

This is where I'm putting the bits that some people are not going to want to hear, and some people are going to wish I hadn't talked about publicly - after all, talking about money is vulgar and UnBritish. However...

Most of the problems were caused by either a lack of budget, or the physical realities of York as a venue.

On budgets: conference has had it's budget relentlessly cut by FFAC (and whatever it's successor is called) in the last couple of years, mostly due to the financial straits the party itself is in. 2015 caused an absolutely precipitous drop in income, which meant all departments of the party got swingeing cuts, and conference could not expect to be exempt. However, this has now got to the point where we are now seeing problems directly caused by budget cuts (the lack of screen being the most obvious, but also the problems with internet feeds were almost entirely caused by parsimony meaning volunteers running it had to choose between one bad choice and another, and the lack of Conference Dailies was because we couldn't afford to keep the security staff late enough to keep the building open long enough for the volunteers to man the photocopier).

Although record numbers of attendees means more money from members, we are still not attracting many corporate sponsors, hence the shortage of externally sponsored fringes and exhibition stands. Mostly this is due to our sudden lack of being in government, and partly (I suspect) that when corporate sponsors do spend money on us in the hopes of buying our policies we relentlessly refuse to be bought (take a bow, Gatwick) which makes us not that great value for money from their point of view. We're also getting less media attendees because the media have decided we are not important now we're no longer in government, and although this is slowly changing, it's not changing fast enough to affect budgets. The prices we charge members are deliberately kept as low as possible - we turned a tiny profit from York, but it was tiny, and none of FCC are up for profiteering from members.

Basically, we can't fix the budget problems without putting prices up, which we don't want to do, unless we get more MPs. More MPs means more money directly, but it also means more media attention and more corporate sponsors. So get yourselves to Gorton and go help Jackie become our tenth: every little helps.

As for the problems with lack of space in Fringe rooms and small number of fringes... We can't wave a magic wand and get the Barbican to build another floor full of fringe rooms, and we can't make the Novotel or the Hilton build more/bigger rooms either, and those are the only two hotel venues really feasible for fringes (there are some others, but they are even further out from the Barbican, and the distances are already a stretch for those with limited mobility). So FCC has come to the reluctant conclusion that while we love York to bits, we've probably outgrown it as a conference venue even for the smaller spring conference, and we're going to have to look elsewhere for the future. Personally, this makes me desperately sad. York is one of my favourite places in the world.


There are proposed solutions to some of the problems, which would hopefully not cause knock on problems elsewhere due to budget shuffling, but I think we will have to wait and see if those proposed solutions materialise. There were a couple of little working groups set up to investigate feasibility of various solutions, and I know this paragraph is vague, but it's purposefully so. We are, obviously, going to beg the powers that be for a tiny bit more money, and the first thing we'll spend it on if we get it is reincorporating the screen into the stage set.

In terms of myself personally, I have been given the task (along with another FCCer) of revamping the post-conference questionnaire so that we laser in on the info we need, but also so that we don't build up unrealistic expectations in people answering it. The wording of some of the questions does invite a wishlist of unfeasible things ("we want free food and drink! And solid gold taps in all the toilets!" etc.) so hopefully Steve and I will be able to sort that before autumn conference.
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Hello! I'm Jennie (known to many as SB, due to my handle, or The Yorksher Gob because of my old blog's name). This blog is my public face; click here for a list of all the other places you can find me on t'interwebs.

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