The Director’s Diary: The Labour Party conference

Posted by Dan Breslin / Thursday 27 September 2018 / Children's centres Government spending Public Affairs
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As Action for Children attend the main party conferences, Imran Hussain, Action for Children's Director of Policy and Campaigns, has been keeping a diary. Here is his entry from a packed week in Liverpool.

Sunday

Evening: My colleagues Sam Reeve and Rossanna Trudgian, who did all the hard work organising Action for Children’s activities this year at the party conferences, arrive in Liverpool.

 

Monday

8.00 am Rossanna, our Head of Campaigns, attends a roundtable organised by National Youth Agency, where she discusses the importance of youth services and the challenges they currently face.

1.00 pm: A half hour train delay means I nearly miss the start of an excellent Local Government Association meeting on next year’s spending review and local government funding. The Leader of Newcastle Council, Nick Forbes congratulates attendees for finding the meeting room in the huge venue by saying: “We’re out the back, in the dark, and next to a perilously big drop – perfect metaphor for current situation of local government funding…”

2.30 pm: Sam and I then rush off to meet Paul Williams MP, a member of the Health Select Committee which has launched an inquiry into the first 1,000 days of a child’s life. Paul knows us well, having visited one of our children’s centres in his constituency of Stockton South. Paul wants us to send him Stockton and national statistics on school readiness.  

3.30 pm: I bump into Patrick Butler of the Guardian newspaper, a real expert on social policy, and discuss the troubled Universal Credit benefit and Action for Children’s current priorities. 

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4.00 pm: I also run into Rob Burley of vinspired, the main UK volunteering and social action charity for young people.  As we’re catching up, we spot Kate Green MP walking by and she stops for a chat – Kate used to run the charity Child Poverty Action Group.

7.30 pm: Sam and I pop in to the IPPR think tank’s reception for its recent Economic Justice Commission report.

8.15 pm: Action for Children, en masse, go to offer support to (and get fish and chips from) our friends at Barnardo’s, who are holding their evening reception.

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Tuesday

9.00 am: Angela Rayner’s education speech was late on Monday, so I read over the text of the speech in the morning. It was good to see a strong focus on the early years, as part of her plans for a National Education Service.

2.00 pm: But today’s our big day. My worry about our fringe meeting venue not being on the main conference site turns out to be misplaced as about 90 people turn up to hear a pretty stellar panel discuss children’s centres. I do my best to live-tweet it on Twitter (@AFC_policy).

Lucy Powell MP, a member of the Education Select Committee, warns that councils are making impossible decisions as they cope with huge funding cuts. Carol Iddon, who heads up Action for Children’s children’s services, points out that children’s centres are closing at the rate of one a week and calls for the government to ‘step up to the plate.’

Labour early years spokesperson Tracy Brabin praises Action for Children for its work – which is helpful, since our new chief executive, Julie Bentley, is in the audience! – before announcing that a Labour government would re-imagine the national network of children’s centres into a “Sure Start Plus” that is fit for the challenges of the 21st century. This seems something new – and very welcome – from the party and, importantly, comes with a commitment that Labour would work with experts to do this, as well as a pledge to examine the potential role new technologies can play.

The next speaker is the civil servant who rolled out Sure Start, Naomi Eisenstadt. She emphasises that improving life chances is difficult if children are growing up in poverty – money matters. She memorably describes children’s centres as the first government programme set up for the poor which everyone else wanted to access.

The new Local Government Association lead for children, Cllr Anntoinette Bramble, a gripping speaker, appeals to the audience to be more ambitious: ‘our children need more and we need to demand more so children get the best start in life’. Children’s centres, she adds, have a vital role to play in helping children overcome structural barriers.  The final speaker is Andrew Harrop, the General Secretary of the Fabian Society think tank. He is clear that ‘the case is made for the early years – we just need to do it’.

5.45pm: We attend the Institute for Government fringe meeting on the pressures facing public services. Its report on the pressure points will be out in mid-October.

Wednesday

10.00 am: I help approve a draft statement for some Action for Children analysis on spending on children’s services out the following day (which Patrick Butler has since written up).

11.47 am - 5.20pm: Trains.  I manage to listen to most of Jeremy Corbyn’s speech. Much of the childcare and early years parts of the speech have been pre-briefed for the morning papers, particularly the Daily Mirror.

After setting out his vision for the early years, the challenge for Jeremy Corbyn and his party now is working with parents and teachers to set out how this will be done.

The challenge for Theresa May and her party next week at their conference in Birmingham is to set out their vision for children’s centres and early years help for parents. The longer we wait, the more children’s centres will close.