Here’s my latest report as Liberal Democrat President, from the party website:
We’re in the home stretch now for the mammoth set of May elections, which also means huge extra demands on everyone’s time, both volunteers and staff. Thank you to everyone who is finding ways to squeeze in extra effort in order to maximise our wins in May. Thank you also to all the relatives, colleagues and friends who have to put up with us all putting even more time into the Lib Dems over these precious weeks.Good luck to everyone campaigning and a huge thanks to everyone who is being an agent and has safely submitted the thousands of nomination forms required. It’s great that we’re running a full slate of Police and Crime Commissioner candidates for the first time, and we’re also contesting a higher proportion of the council seats this time.
We are going into the final stretch off the back of a very successful spring federal conference. Thank you to everyone who contributed to make this happen. It’s especially impressive that the spring conference was able to make a small operating surplus. The Federal Conference Committee (FCC) will shortly be looking at plans for autumn conference, and in particular the pros and cons of doing another online conference, reverting to a physical event or trying to combine both formats.
Showcasing our liberal values
For these elections it is important not only to show voters the virtues of our hard-working local teams but also what makes us distinctive from other parties.
I hope you’ve started to notice the increasing emphasis on issues such as our plans for a green recovery, supplementing our major focus on supporting carers and improving caring.
HQ plans progressing
I mentioned last time the plans to move to a smaller, cheaper and yet also much better party HQ. The final stages are progressing smoothly so unless there is a last minute hiccup, the move will happen this summer.
Delivering on our plans
Getting the HQ decision right is an important part of the longer term planning we’ve been focusing on at Board and Steering Group meetings.
As I highlighted at party conference, technology and diversity (especially after the government’s awful recent report) are particularly important. They are both important in their own right but also important to focus on as so often in the past we’ve said they’re important but then other issues have intruded, pushing them down the agenda.
So our April steering group will be hearing the latest plans from our Chief Technology Officer, Duncan Gough, including his recommendations on what areas to prioritise. We will also be taking a first look at what reforms and improvements to the party’s rules and processes to put to autumn conference, considering options such as the recommendations from the Party Body Review Group’s work.
We’ll also be discussing the next steps to take in the development of the party’s strategy for this Westminster Parliament, and doing our quarterly review of LDHQ’s performance versus the agreed targets and priorities.
A report is due later this month from the consultants we’ve been working with to review our approaches to improving diversity. More on than in future reports.
The latest report from the Federal Communications and Elections Committee (FCEC), chaired by Cllr Lisa Smart, also sets out how we’re going to be making targeting decisions during this Westminster Parliament.
Tony Greaves and Jonathan Fryer
Many of you will have seen the news of the sad death of Tony Greaves. Among Tony’s numerous contributions to the party, he was a member of the Federal Board (then called the Federal Executive) for many years. At our last meeting we remembered his contributions. It’s quite remarkable that this year is the 50th anniversary of the first thank you leaflet Tony put out after winning an election, by a slim but precious majority of just five votes.
Sadly another of our colleagues, Jonathan Fryer, has also died in the last few days. He had been a sterling champion for the party’s internationalism and a valued colleague over many years. I’ve been particularly grateful for his wise advice and expertise as I’ve got to grips with the international elements of my role as Party President since taking up the office last year.
Our complaints process
It’s important that we have an effective and robust complaints process. The system adopted by party conference in 2019 is deliberately and rightly independent of political influence over individual cases. Who you know in the party mustn’t influence the outcome of cases.
While the Board has no involvement in – or knowledge of – complaints in the independent system, we do have a responsibility to ensure that we have the right resources and procedures for the system to be able to work well.
We have recently increased the staffing levels in the complaints team at HQ, and are also currently testing a new case management software system. This is due to go live for new cases in the next few weeks. It will automate many of the existing administrative tasks, reducing errors and speeding up the system.
While this is good news, there are ongoing issues with the system that have been exacerbated by errors made at, and in the run up to, our spring conference for which I want to apologise.
One was a constitutional amendment, which got a majority but not the two-thirds majority required to pass, and which would have made changes to the system easier to make in-between conferences. The Board will reflect carefully on the concerns expressed in the debate and how to balance the need for safeguards and the need to improve the system at speed to comply with the party’s legal obligations and protect our members and the public.
Proposed alterations in the complaints rules also did not go forward due to procedural errors. Apologies for this and for how it was communicated to conference, which mistakenly suggested the Federal Board as a whole had decided to withdraw the changes.
We’ve had a detailed discussion at a dedicated Board meeting about the lessons from this and other instances of Board business not going smoothly at conference. We will be changing how we handle business put to conference in future. Thank you to Geoff Payne, Federal Conference Committee Chair, and his colleagues on FCC for the steps they have also decided to take.