My Solution for Party HQ Issues – Let ALDC run it

Over the past few days, there have been all sorts of stories leaking out of the Great George Street bunker about the appalling and depressing state of the finances of our Federal Party.

All of which begs the question, “Why are we in Great George Street at all?” I have no idea what the rent is or the rates are on that building, but I know that it is situated in one of the most expensive areas for real estate in the whole of the UK. I also know that London is the most expensive place for employers in the UK. As you might have guessed my solution to the Party’s finances is to move most of our HQ out of London.

Of, course, some elements of Party HQ need to remain within the Westminster Village. I am sure that we need to keep The President’s and Chief Executive’s office; the press office and research inside or close to the Whitehall bubble. However, for the rest, they could be run from anywhere. Conferences; membership; IT support; campaigns; compliance; finance etc. can be delivered for the Party from anywhere in the UK. Rents would be half (at most) of what is paid in the central London area. Employment would either be cheaper or in relative terms, we could pay our staff more.

This may seem treacherous thinking, but it is not new in our Party. Local Government and publications etc. used to be run from Party HQ, but they have been ‘farmed out’ for more than 25 years. If we are looking at other Parties Labour devolved a lot of their staff to the North East almost 20 years ago.

So, am I suggesting that Liverpool would be the best place for the move? Well, I’d like to, but I have to confess that I think the operation should move to Manchester. Why Manchester? Because, it is where ALDC works from to support councillors campaigning for local governments seats and that is, almost always, the precursor to parliamentary success.

To be more adventurous why not let ALDC run those functions? I do not doubt that ALDC is the most effective part of the Party’s machinery. They get their appeal out to members effectively; run their membership function excellently, and I could well imagine some savings in them running the systems for all these things. There would be a closer liaison between ALDC campaign support staff and the Party allowing even better joined-up services and support to our campaigners who mainly don’t differentiate between parliamentary and local campaigning.

The other advantage is that this would put our policies into action. We are committed devolutionists concerning policy. Wouldn’t it be nice to put our efforts where our mouth is? I believe that our Country would be better run if we broke the power or Whitehall and Westminster. I think that would be true of our Party as well.

There is definitely an air in the Party of metropolitan elitism. Much of this comes from the fact that there is a substantial contingent on the committees of the Party who live within an hour’s journey to central London. That won’t change. Regrettably, London is still the best place for people from all over the Country to meet up. However, our HQ staff mainly coming from outside the bubble would even up the balance a little.

Just some thoughts from someone who has never been considered part of the metropolitan elite (I hope!)

* Cllr Richard Kemp CBE, Leader, Liverpool Liberal Democrats

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24 Comments

  • chris moore 21st Nov '18 - 8:01am

    Richard,

    1.You are from a metrópolis, albeit a smallish one.
    2. You are clearly an elite member of society.

    Hence you are a member of a metropolitan elite. Enjoy your day.

    Good article. Definitely move more “central” functions” out of London. High time.

  • Well said. BBC and ITV have news centres at Salford Quays and Channel 4 is moving a lot of staff to Leeds. With video conferencing a lot of stuff can be done remotely so why not?

  • David Becket 21st Nov '18 - 9:17am

    Not only could we save some jobs and keep the operation viable we would get a good press for moving jobs that do not have to be in London out of London, instead of bad press for running out of cash. A commitment to the north might even pick up some votes. Come on Vince, you do not need a special conference to do this, start the ball rolling. I just hope the party had the sense to include a break out clause in the Great George Street Lease.

  • Mark Smulian 21st Nov '18 - 9:25am

    My, admittedly limited, understanding of the situation (when probed for Liberator) is that the way the lease was set out when it was agreed many years ago now makes it more economic to stay than go for the remainder of its term. I don’t know the technicalities, but no doubt someone does.

  • David Hughes 21st Nov '18 - 10:17am

    Strongly agree with Richard, and have advocated such a move since becoming English Party Treasurer four years ago. The current lease ends in just over two years time but it should be agreed well in advance that we will move HQ out of London, with a small satellite for a few vital functions in London. Manchester is the obvious destination in order to maximise integrated campaigning activity with ALDC.

  • David Evershed 21st Nov '18 - 11:39am

    If we move some functions out of London when the Great George St lease runs out then we also need to consider the disruption and cost of redundancy/re-location of staff.

    Best to plan for such a move now.

  • I agree very much with what Richard says -except:

    I think ALDC should keep itself arms length as an organisation. The interests of a campaigning Cllrs organisation are not always identical with those of for example a Campaigns Department whose focus is naturally on Target Seat MP’s/candidates and their campaigns. Neither should they always be ‘in tune’ with the needs of the Party Leadership as for example when we had a Deputy Prime Minister whose Government was completing the destruction of Local Government begun under Margaret Thatcher and continued under Blair and New Labour.

    As for location -if we are looking for value for money why go to a big city where property prices/rents are inevitably higher?

  • I just want to point out that we should look at this in the wider context. We are closer than at any time in 38 Years to possible splits in one of The Major Parties. We should not do anything that makes us look smaller.

  • nigel hunter 21st Nov '18 - 12:29pm

    Why not find a location in the centre of the UK. Surely that will. not have an expensive rental sight.away from large conurbations and the organisation could be linked via modern tech for communications.

  • David Becket 21st Nov '18 - 12:55pm

    @Paul Barker
    The proposed cuts in staff, which have appeared in the national media, makes us look smaller.

    Get the PR right for this, moving some business outside the capital to support the regions, cutting down on London commuting, making use of modern technology and providing better working conditions, will give us a positive image.

  • Whilst thinking of finance and waste, may I respectfully ask how we are going to avoid throwing another near 200K away on lost deposits at the next election.

  • Daniel Walker 21st Nov '18 - 1:24pm

    @nigel hunter “Why not find a location in the centre of the UK”

    Depending on how you measure, Manchester isn’t that far—about 60 miles SE—from the geographical centre point of the UK (including NI). The exact “centroid” centre point is in Morecambe Bay, so probably impractical!

  • Nigel Jones 21st Nov '18 - 2:56pm

    @Paul: Nice idea to avoid big city centres, assuming we do not require lots of people to travel public transport to get to HQ.
    I agree that we do not want ALDC to be influenced by national HQ staff; it is vital to have a balance of sharing resources, taking note of national campaign strategy, while allowing our local party base to operate as it sees best, including fighting for a devolution of resources from Whitehall to local government.
    I certainly think Richard’s point is an excellent one and we should start planning it now.

  • A good idea for the medium term, however in the short term we are tied into the lease at St George Street till 2021, therefore as good idea this is, it certainly would not be practical to do for at least the next three years otherwise we would end up having to pay for office space two times over.

  • Paul Holmes 21st Nov '18 - 9:40pm

    @Nigel Jones. Ref public transport outside of more expensive Cities. I can think of a Town of 100,000 people just south of Sheffield, pretty centrally located nationally, excellent national transport links as it is astride the Midland Mainline and the M1(good national Coach links not just car) and fairly good local bus network. Commercial and domestic property costs are much cheaper than Cities like Sheffield, Manchester, Derby or Nottingham let alone London. Just close enough/far enough from Manchester to facilitate ALDC links too without HQ staff absorbing ALDC.

    Chesterfield would fit the bill perfectly!

  • I vote for a moving HQ!

    I seem to remember that the SDP had a “moving”/rolling conference at the beginning of its life with it spending a day in several locations (confirmed by Mark Pack’s Alliance chronology).

    I think I have also solved our Brexit problems as well. As Britain seems undecided as to whether it wants to be “Best Friends Forever” with Europe, America or the Commonwealth – we could tow Britain round the World – spending 4 months near Europe, 4 months near America and 4 months near Australia.

    (We would of course leave pesky Northern Ireland behind)

    We would alternate over the year being in the EU, not in the EU but in the Single Market and completely out. As all MPs support one of these options there would be unanimity in Parliament. Well OK – except for the DUP but they wouldn’t be able to find us anyway!

    Never say that LDV isn’t a fount of serious, well-reasoned debate solving the country’s problems!

  • Cllr Fran Oborski 22nd Nov '18 - 8:29am

    Yes, put our policies about devolution into practice!
    ALDC is by far the most effective part of the Party and devolving to ALDC the responsibility for Administration and Organisation of the Party with the ability to centralise our campaigns would make real sense.
    Obviously some part of the Orgsnisation, support and coordination for the Parliamentary Party and Leader’s Office need to be near Parliament but nothing else needs to be there.
    If ALDC were to be the organising and coordinating “arm” it might stop some of us who already Fund campaigning via ALDC from being “pestered” by begging phone calls from HQ!

  • Paul Holmes 22nd Nov '18 - 1:38pm

    @Michael1. I do realise that your comment is light hearted satire but I do hope that you don’t think this is not a serious debate?

    Firstly, a Party that has long preached Devolution and Decentralisation as a core philosophy ought to practise it in reality when the opportunity arises.

    Secondly, a Party that has been reduced from 3rd to 4th Party in the UK and is currently getting rid of 25% of its staff due to lack of money needs to avoid needless expenditure on unnecessarily expensive premises.

  • @Paul Holmes

    No – it was a reference firstly to my own comment and secondly a reference to the posting and thread on debate on internet/social media/LDV – NOT this thread.

    Clearly LDV is a important forum – about the only forum to debate more internal matters.

    On the substantive point if the lease on Great George Street is up in the next two years, we need and I hope the federal board will do an analysis of the most cost effective HQ costs.

    If in practice we do need some office space in central London – sticking an extra desk in there MIGHT come at no extra cost. But I hope that the analysis will look at what can be done from things like home working, a “virtual HQ”, using office space in local party offices where they exist etc. etc. Campaign staff might particularly be best located in local party offices.

    I think we need to be careful about ALDC. Government in particular seems to have a mantra of if in doubt re-organise and it normally ends up with much the same job being done in much the same way with little or not cost saving.

    I think that we would need to keep ALDC as a member organisation representing councillors and perhaps more importantly grassroots campaigners to TPTB in the party and as an SAO “independent” of the party to submit motions etc. etc.

    I am massively grateful to ALDC as virtually my own source of campaigning advice in the early 90s – especially their guides that came out then – which taught me probably what I would have taken 30 years to acquire otherwise (if at all) and which I subsequently applied in a seat (not a formal target) that we won by two votes – even if it meant getting up at 5am to print target letters!

    So rather belatedly but if anyone is reading this a big thank you to the likes of Chris Rennard, Andrew Stunnell, Neil Fawcett, Tony Greaves, Paul Burstow, Adrian Sanders and many, many more who either contributed to the guides and mailings then or on whose work they were based – along with some excellent campaign dept. staff of that time such as Candy Piercy and Paul Rainger.

    (And one of the successes of the party was the party nationally adopting many of the techniques advocated by AL(D)C which probably wasn’t done so much at a national level in the 80s – certainly by the SDP half – although I wasn’t active then)

  • Neil Sandison 24th Nov '18 - 12:19pm

    We have 2 years to do this properly and source a sensible new base my preference would be a Midlands University City for ease of access to all members ,on a mainline rail route and within an hours travel to London and Manchester .University Cities give us access to fresh and new recruits who help to deliver our agenda post 2020 and campus facilities to hold conferences in the Spring and Summer .Could be Birmingham ?

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