When I was at University, I didn’t go to many lectures. Partly that was because so many of them seemed to be in the morning, and I didn’t like mornings – more, though, it was because very many lecturers simply talked, quite slowly, along the same lines as the books they had written. My eyes work faster than my ears, so I didn’t see the point in sitting for an hour to learn what I could read in ten minutes and spend the rest of the time looking out other books, attending meetings by exciting guest speakers, meeting fellow students, trying out new experiences and, well, drinking and sleeping. Mission accomplished in any event as I came out with a respectable 2:1 – I’m not an academic enough type that a First was ever genuinely in prospect, so better a solid 2:1 than a frustrating high one, I say.
LGA conference in Harrogate last week, which I was fortunate to attend, hence my silence, had a number of similarity to my student days. I refer not to the high alcohol content (although…) but rather to the fact that the most interesting stuff wasn’t usually going on in the Conference hall. I mean no disrespect to the organisers by that, but the votes are no concern of mine – I haven’t got one – and the speakers were largely saying what you would expect them to say. If they veered off the script you could guarantee in any case that it would appear on Twitter or even the real news. In consequence I spent much more of my time seeking out people to talk to in the fringes, the conference exhibition, and smaller meetings. I find I learn more about CCTV from listening with a critical ear to someone whose job is to sell me a CCTV installation, than at a political debate about its merits and cost-effectiveness.
So when I said on Twitter that I wasn’t going to write up LGA Conference, that’s why. It was interesting, and tiring (Going from early B&B breakfast to conference centre, to sessions, to workshop lunch, to afternoon sessions, to evening fringe, to late evening receptions, to getting some food, to going back and checking the office e-mail on my laptop to make sure I hadn’t missed anything, makes for a long day). I met more useful people than I could have sought out in a month of phoning up and trying to arrange meetings if they hadn’t all been in the same place, and I heard some fascinating stuff – from the realism about the forthcoming lack of money discussed in detail at the NLGN fringe session, to an explanation of how Cheshire are going through the process of merging two lots of three Districts into two unitary Councils at the same time as splitting the County Council in half. Fairly challenging, but undoubtedly worth knowing about.
I’d certainly recommend it to anyone who has the opportunity to attend, and there’s strong merit to having Councillors from all different parties and parts of the country brought together to share and debate the common challenges that local government faces. What I think I did ought to write is a more detailed post about perceptions of the LGA, which has come in for a lot of stick from grassroots Conservatives, especially after Margaret Eaton’s (broadly correct in my view) criticism of the Taxpayers’ Alliance, but I’m pondering exactly what I want to say.