Diary clashes stopped me reaching a perfect ten in SOLACE conference attendances this year, so I followed it instead via twitter. That prompted two questions for me- first who will first try and install a paywall behind their tweets, and second coming out of the whole conference season what messages came across most clearly.
For one, the Liberal Democrats were the wettest and the Conservatives the driest, that’s not a comment on their economics, but the conference weather. More seriously we now know the new dividing line is between A+ and B-. The autumn statement is happening in December (so at least Treasury acknowledges global warming). We know there will be no fundamental change in coalition policy, but the statement will contain a lot of “shovel ready” announcements. Meanwhile Labour will continue to oppose austerity, but will make no offer to reinstate any cuts. So if you were hoping for the early arrival of any cavalry from any party to solve the budget problems think again.
Second, along the lines of the dog that did not bark, the upside was we didn’t get lots of bad headlines. Sure there were a few pot shots at local government, but what might have been the major one (blame planning for no new buildings) was seen off at the pass, and the council tax freeze was pretty predictable.
Indeed we even had one key new minister, David Laws, contemplating a significant role for local authorities in education. We should not be complacent, but compared to many other conference seasons this one played well for local government.
We also made sure that local government voices were prominent- altogether there were over 90 LGA councillors speaking on conference platforms. The downside was it showed we still have work to do to get people to see local government as the catalyst of local growth. To me that’s now our number one challenge.
Lastly only one politician got the “Hollywood” treatment - and he was not a national politician but a city mayor. Borrisification was a sight to see. Now whoever would have thought that local government would be seen as sexy?
Joe Simpson is principal strategic adviser, LGA