Here’s the email sent out from Federal Conference Committee (FCC) chair Cllr Nick da Costa this afternoon. As you’ll see, a huge amount of work has gone into scoping and evaluating a large number of options at very short notice. Many thanks to everyone, staff and committee members, who put in so much hard work on that at very short notice.
Our autumn conference is the high point of my year. I’ve missed it deeply over the past three years and have been looking forward to it for months.
It’s a chance to see so many friends and colleagues, debate ideas, and feel excited about the future. It’s also a really important part of our party’s democratic process – I’m proud to belong to a party where members decide our policy.
As Chair of our Federal Conference Committee, I’ve seen first hand the thousands of hours that our members, volunteers and staff team have already given towards making it a success.
The sad news of the last few days has touched our nation deeply. And we now know that the Queen’s funeral will take place on the Monday of our Conference.
After very careful consideration – and taking soundings from as many people as we can – the Conference Committee and Federal Board have together regretfully decided to cancel our autumn conference and postpone major debates until Spring.
I know that this is hugely disappointing for many of us, and so I wanted to explain carefully how we came to this decision, what options we considered, and what we are going to do to help you practically with hotels and other bookings.
What options did we consider?
We looked carefully at six main options.
Continuing with our planned Conference
As a major political party, we want and need to show our respect to the Queen and the period of national mourning. There is no way we would hold an event during the Funeral. This is in line with the conclusion other major organisations have made about their scheduled events.
Shortening our Conference to one day
Our Conference was originally scheduled to end Tuesday 20th, the day after the Queen’s Funeral. We looked at keeping the final day unchanged. But asking members to travel to Brighton for one day was not feasible, and would have left little room for either debate or the important social aspects of Conference.
Extending our Conference
This would have run our Conference from Tuesday to Thursday. While this would have given us more time together, we were extremely worried about the additional cost for members in extending and rescheduling hotel bookings.
We were also concerned about important debates and decisions being made at the conference with many of our members unable to attend at the last minute.
Postponing our Conference by a few weeks
This would involve postponing our Conference until later in October. This would have placed significant additional costs on our members, in addition to challenges with regards to volunteer and staff resources and additional costs for the party, and challenges with regards to venue and supplier availability.
Moving our Conference online
We looked at this carefully, but can’t realistically make this work in practice with such a short notice period. It also doesn’t give us the thing we’ve been missing so much since the pandemic: a chance to spend time with each other.
Cancelling our Conference and postponing debates until Spring
With a heavy heart, we think this is the least bad option. It means that most of our members can recoup at least some of their costs, and does not ask people to spend even more money than they have already.
We are reviewing options around the Spring Conference in order to allow more items on the agenda and ensure that crucial debates can be considered properly and democratically.
How can we help you?
Over the past 48 hours I have listened to hundreds of members about their personal situations and views about how to proceed.
The crucial thing for many people has been getting refunds on travel and hotels, with deadlines varying considerably between different accommodation.
We’ve found that many hotels, AirBnB’s and B&Bs are prepared to be more flexible with our members than in their stated terms and conditions, given the period of national mourning.
We are also in discussions with Southern Rail and National Express about refunds for non-refundable tickets, and will let you know as soon as possible whether we’ve been successful in persuading them to make an exception on refunds given the period of national mourning.
More widely, if you have contacted your accommodation provider and are having trouble getting a refund, then please contact us here and we will do our very best to help.
In terms of registrations, we are of course happy to offer a full refund, or count these as a credit towards a future conference and we will be contacting all those registered for the conference with further details shortly.
We have a small access fund for conference delegates experiencing financial hardship. If you would like more detail on that, either to request funds or to donate, then you can do that here.
The impact on our party finances
Conference is a major part of our budget and we stand to lose hundreds of thousands of pounds through this cancellation in lost income. (Event insurance policies do not cover the death of a Monarch.)
At this point many of our supplier contracts are unavoidable.
This means that our party will take a substantial financial hit as a result of cancelling the conference. Our finances are already very stretched and so coping with this will not be easy.
I hope this explanation is useful and gives you a sense of how difficult this decision has been to make. There are no good options; we have chosen what I hope is the least bad once taken in the round.
At this point in a cost of living crisis, we felt it would be impossible and undemocratic to ask our members to spend more to attend our Conference.
Please do get in touch if we can help you in conversations with your accommodation or train company.
The Federal Conference Committee will be meeting in the coming weeks to consider what realistic options exist to enable party members to engage with our party’s democratic processes over the coming months, and will let you know about any decisions as soon as we can. And of course our parliamentarians and elected representatives will continue to hold this government to account and fight for a fairer, safer, greener and more prosperous country.
Finally, I want to say a huge thanks to the volunteer and staff conference teams, who have spent the last few days working above and beyond. They put their heart and soul into making our conference a great experience, and this decision to cancel is particularly hard on them.
With best wishes,
Cllr Nick da Costa
UPDATE: The cancellation is also explained in this podcast.
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