‘Tis the season

Party conference season is upon us once again.  In a break from the usual order, Labour party conference kicks off the main events on Sunday. Conservatives follow the week after, and the Liberal Democrats the following week.

What’s the point?

The cost of running fringe events at party conferences keeps rising and, with attendance numbers often fairly low, many voluntary organisations are reconsidering the value they offer. NCVO will be present at all three conferences, but took the decision that running events was not the best use of resources this year.

A common (and fairly accurate) criticism is that party conferences are largely the Westminster Village on tour. MPs, think tanks, business and voluntary organisations travel en masse from London to a chosen coastal or northern town. The same policy events can often be held in Westminster for a fraction of the cost and with more impact.

So why go?

Party conferences can be a useful opportunity to meet with government ministers away from their civil servants. You need to invite them early on as their diaries fill up very quickly, or else be bold enough to accost them in the exhibition hall.

The ‘Westminster on tour’ criticism does not hold true for local councillors, many of whom will attend conference each year. If they are a key stakeholder for your organisation, conference may present an opportunity to make new links.

It is also always a useful opportunity to build your network. Catching up with contacts, former colleagues, and old friends over a glass of cheap white wine is just as much a part of party conferences as the leaders’ speeches.

Whether party conferences are a good use of resources will vary by organisation. Don’t just go because everyone else is. Think about how best to use the time at conference, who you could partner with and ultimately what you want to achieve.

Tips and tricks

We have put together a guide to party conferences for the voluntary sector. It includes tips for getting the most out of your time and recommended fringe events. The report is free to download for members.

Stay connected

You can follow all the debate at conference on Twitter from the comfort of your home. Search #lab14, #cpc14, and #ldconf14 for the news from each.

NCVO will be present at all three and staff will be tweeting and blogging about the events we go to. Follow @Charlotte_NCVO, @RuthDrisc, @karlwilding, and @ncvoaidan for updates.

If there are events you think we should go to or questions you want us to ask, get in touch.

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Charlotte was our senior external relations officer and public affairs consultant. She has left NCVO

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