Now I accept that Scotland is a peculiar case… our political conferences only really came about as unique occurrences after devolution, and for a while no-one knew quite who they were hoping would come, or exhibit. And then we had a happy medium time, where you felt the parties were making some money back but you weren’t being overcharged as an exhibitor / fringe organiser. It was almost affordable!
But as time has worn on, the cut and thrust of politics and the reality of economics have meant that the cost of attending conference has risen exponentially. If I was a corporate I might be able to afford it, but then again, as a voter do I want corporates being the only people able to afford to access politicians and members of political parties?
And, as a third sector organisation prices have gotten prohibitive. If you want to attend conference, you have to make a choice between being a mere observer (which is usually reasonably affordable but still expensive), having a stand (which then of course you need to man for the full length of conference and *must* set up the evening before it all kicks off and cannot dismantle until everyone has gone home), or a fringe event (which costs you and then you have to attract delegates with food and “refreshments” which are charged on top of the room and ‘handbook advert’).
Additionally, if the venue is away from your place of residence you have to add on travel and accommodation costs (the latter of which strangely rise when conference is in town).
So, this year I thought I would save a few bucks and instead of paying over £500 for a fringe event inside the conference (that’s just for the room and an ad), I would pay the conference hotel £100 for their room (as I was staying there anyway, for a teeny room (though I am a teeny person). at Edinburgh rates, outside of the capital) and flyer. But then when I asked if members of the party would speak at my event I was told they wouldn’t attend events outside the venue, and that delegates would be discouraged from attending such events also.
So, I coughed up the price for an in-house venue. But to be honest, as much fun as I had at the event, and as nice as it was that a number of delegates attended, I made better contacts in the lounge of the conference hotel (but maybe the party members shouldn’t have spoken with me outside the conference venue, or at least not without asking for a donation).
At a different conference, we were allowed to hold our event in an external venue. Similar turnout, and apparently “the best food I’ve ever had at a party conference”.
At another one again, the fringe price wasn’t too exorbitant, and a fair number of delegates came along. But we still couldn’t’ve afforded a stand as well, which meant we were only able to reach the fringe attendees. Which is our choice, but when it’s going to set you back over £1000 just to hang out for one weekend, you have to think about your priorities.
So we won’t be attending conferences in the autumn, mostly because we spent all of our budget in the spring. And it was fun, and it went well, but did it go £3000 worth of well? Not so much.
If parties want to make it worth the while of organisations like those I have worked for to attend, it can’t cost as much. Our budgets are very small, and whilst we know you are struggling as much as any organisation in this economy, surely we can work out that together we are more attractive than if we move further apart and don’t present options to all our members / supporters.