Asking Jo to help restore the Conference crèche

I was lucky enough to get called during the Leader’s Q & A at Party Conference. I reminded Jo that we had had a Conference creche for most of the last four decades and that the Young Liberals had been prime movers in the original campaign for this. During that time, it has helped many parents and, in particular, young women to attend Conference and gain the benefits of learning, networking, helping make policy etc. But now there is no creche. Would she help to get it reinstated?

Jo looked hard at the FCC Chair, Geoff Payne, who promptly said he was willing to look at this again, and she also expressed her strong support for having a Conference creche. So far, so good.

This was the best attended Conference ever, with over 3000 people there. I was thinking about the people who weren’t there and why: people like my step-daughter – a former MEP – who has a young son. If she had brought him to Bournemouth with her, she would not have seen very much of Conference because few of the debates or meetings are geared up to cope with a lively and mobile toddler.

Of course, there have been many changes since the Conference creche first started. It can’t just be run in a bedroom by a few volunteers, we need to have qualified and approved staff and they need to have all the necessary information about the children. Truancy legislation makes it less likely that older children will attend – we used to just take my four children out of school and bring them with us! – and caring for small children needs a higher ratio of staff. And the creche has not always been advertised prominently in the pre-Conference literature. Apparently, the decision to cancel it followed a Conference at which the Party paid several thousand pounds for the creche and only three or four children attended.

So what can be done? Most young parents I have spoken to say that they would be willing to pay for using the creche: they have to pay for childcare back home, too. If this would be a burdensome cost for some parents, could we not use the Access Fund to reduce the costs for them? Or create a Creche Access Fund to run in parallel to the Conference Fund?

I think it’s reasonable to ask people to book places well in advance, so the Party has a fair idea how many children will be using the creche. Although at this Conference there were some people had only booked at last minute, most Conference regulars book their accommodation soon after the previous Conference, so booking the creche could be done at the same time.

The purpose of having the creche is to remove one of the big barriers to participation in political activity. We don’t want to lose young activists simply because they become parents. Let’s be welcoming and inclusive to the future generations of Liberal Democrats.

* Ruth Coleman-Taylor has been a Party member since the mid-60s, held a variety of positions in the Liberals/Lib Dems and is currently Group Leader on Todmorden Town Council.

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  • Judging from HOC last night, should the PM be in a Commons creche?

  • I think it’s essential to find a way to make a creche work, but take the point that it’s important that most of those who might use it indicate as much in advance, and that this requirement (and the availability of a creche) is well advertised.

    IMO, it makes a mockery of our attempts to be a more inclusive party, promoting policies that support a work-life balance, and wanting to represent the public as a whole if we can’t provide some simple child-care so those with young children can attend conference. I would be very happy to support a kind of access fund specifically designed to support a creche on the understanding that it is properly advertised and so on.

  • As a non-parent and (these days) a non conference attendee, I would be happy to punt a few quid to a conference creche fund.
    To Nigel’s point, how about this: a creche allows more new, young members to attend conference, and while they’re there maybe they take part in training sessions, get inspired to join a policy group, meet other members in the pub and learn what Focus leaflets are, talk to councillors and MPs – and all of this helps them become better campaigners and candidates. It also makes them more likely to remain as members and encourage friends to join and come to next year’s conference (with their kids).
    I do understand that cost of a creche is a big issue. Presumably this is because we need to hire a private company and they all charge the earth. So, I wonder if…. now this is just an idea from, as I say, a non-parent. It might be the stupidest idea ever, but I’ll say it anyway…. Hear me out.
    OK, we have 150,000 members/supporters. In that number, there must be lots of members who work in childcare. So, instead of hiring an expensive private company, how about the party recruit it’s own ‘conference creche team’ – much like we do with the stewards. We identify all the professional childcare people in the party, and offer them a nominal (i.e. low) wage to come and help run a creche for the conference, and in return they get free registration and accommodation – and of course the eternal thanks of the party. I think some of them would do this, if asked. It would be their ‘contribution to the cause’. Note I’m not suggesting any old member be dragged in, but professional, accredited people. Obviously you’d need someone to run it, organise different shifts and time off for each staffer, etc. But surely this would be a cheaper option than hiring a hugely expensive private outfit?
    OK, now you can all tell me how I’m totally missing the point. 🙂

  • Geoff Payne 27th Sep '19 - 7:54am

    Thanks for raising this again, Ruth. You are right – I did say to you at the Q&A (and indeed said to other people beforehand and have said in several places since!) that FCC has this squarely on the agenda to look at. We have included questions about it in the feedback and in members’ surveys and will come back to it when we have the results at our next meeting in November. FCC has faced very tight (and diminishing) budgets in recent years and conference finances are not down to us. As Nigel points out, the previous crèche was underused and very expensive. But there are important access issues here and if we can make it work in the budget we are given, we will.

  • Gordon Lishman 27th Sep '19 - 8:45am

    Quite a lot of us have reason to be grateful for the. It’s a good question to ask would-be FCC members – although the point is already in Maggie’s manifesto.

  • Berrnard Aris 27th Sep '19 - 2:25pm

    Feminism (J.S. Mill; Mr. Pankhurst MP) is as founding tradition of Social Liberalism.

    If there still isn’t a creche at Spring Conference, why not do wat Jo herself did in the Commons: bring your toddler or baby with you, and sit on the front row of the block of seats to the right of the central block, with the little one strapped to your belly? or let them all at once run amock?

  • Geoff Payne 27th Sep '19 - 5:44pm

    I personally have absolutely no issue with little people in the auditorium. In fact, I like to see that. But I appreciate that it can be stressful for parents (it certainly could be for me when mine were smaller) which is one of the reasons why we are looking at a crèche.

  • David Garlick 28th Sep '19 - 9:32pm

    A bit late coming across this days report. Given that the costs which make it so expensive include venue, insurance, trained staff etc would it be not be possible to negotiate a deal with an existing provider at a lesser cost as they would have all three in place? Restricting it to 9am to 6pm might be a necessary constraint if the money is too tight to mention.
    I would make a small donation towards keeping charges down if a solution is found and I am sure many members would do so.

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