Open letter – please reinstate the creche

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Dear Tim

Yesterday you were campaigning in Faraday, my old ward in inner city Southwark. Way back in the 90s I was councillor for Faraday for eight years. Councillors’ expenses were meagre at that point and it took many thousands of pounds to win and keep that ward. My two ward colleagues and I dipped into our own pockets many a time. I can say without any shadow of a doubt that I could not have afforded to be a councillor had I had a family to provide for at that time.

When I was selected as a PPC and with a baby on the way I gave up work to combine my roles as candidate and parent. My husband reduced his hours to share childcare with me and be a mainstay of our 2005 General Election campaign. Our annual income at the time was £18,000 and we put £9,000 of our savings into paying for leaflets etc. In no way is this a personal whinge. My family’s financial sacrifice is not unusual. I knew another PPC who had remortgaged his house to pay for his campaigning.

In five years as a PPC and thirty years of activism I received no financial help from the party apart from the four times I used the subsidised crèche at conference. It was a small and much appreciated symbol of the party’s commitment to making political activity more accessible for those with caring commitments. The crèche has now been abolished. Parents will now have to compete for an access fund against others with equally valid but different accessibility needs.

In your outstanding speech when you were elected leader you movingly spoke of how we should begin the fight back for Liberalism. “Pick a ward” you said. But it is easier to pick a ward and campaign in it if there is someone back home holding the baby! For those of us combining parenthood and activism it is not that simple. Please request the reinstatement of this crèche – it was the only help some of us had.

Ruth

* Ruth Bright has been a councillor in Southwark and Parliamentary Candidate for Hampshire East

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15 Comments

  • Eddie Sammon 8th Jan '16 - 8:13pm

    I think this is a reasonable request. Without financial support more couples will decide one partner should stay at home more and it will likely be the mother who they decide should do this. It’s not just pressure from men, I know women who have insisted they aren’t going back to work full time once their baby is born and I don’t know a single man who would say the same thing. One way to change this is financial support.

  • Ruth Bright 8th Jan '16 - 9:55pm

    Thanks Eddie.

  • Caron Lindsay Caron Lindsay 9th Jan '16 - 10:16am

    I can actually see both sides of this one. The creche at Spring Conference is used by almost nobody and costs a huge amount of money. However, people with young children need to be involved in our policy making otherwise their needs will be overlooked, so it’s important that they are included.

    If no creche is going to be provided for this Conference, then the registration staff need to be much more flexible. We never had a creche at Scottish Conference, but when my child was small, my husband was able to register for free. That meant that he could look after the baby but bring to me when food or Mummy was required. He never went into any of the debates or other things, so he was simply there as the child-carer. We need to look seriously at this and similar options that might work for people.

  • Ruth Bright 9th Jan '16 - 11:14am

    Thanks for posting on this Caron. I am quite sad at the lack of interest in this issue. I am sure if the (free) crèches at the Green and Labour conferences were abolished there would be uproar amongst their activists. Last time I used the crèche at conference (York nearly two years ago) it cost £100 for two children for a day and a half – so a very heavy subsidy but it was not free.

    It is not advertised by the party in any way so I am not surprised that take-up is variable. I agree about thinking flexibly, perhaps along the lines you suggest. The party is using a very expensive provider and it is a shame no-one thought of openly consulting members about cheaper options rather than abolishing the crèche altogether without any consultation whatsoever.

  • Caron Lindsay Caron Lindsay 9th Jan '16 - 4:15pm

    The decisions pertaining to the Conference budget are taken by FCC and, I think, were passed before the federal budget came to FFAC and FE. Neither committee was given any of the details other than that there wouldn’t be an exhibition in York.

  • Hi,

    Via the access fund the committee are planning for approx £100 per child subsidy to be used with local childminders. There are no set criteria to apply for this fund for childcare. This subsidy can be increased for those who are in financial hardship. This may not be ideal but can provide more flexible options to families, particularly for parents only attending for a couple of days.

    It was a difficult decision but we wanted to ensure there were alternatives in place for those who need it. It also means we aren’t paying for a facility which at times sat empty.

  • Ruth Bright 9th Jan '16 - 6:15pm

    Gareth, Jenni I fear that the wool has been pulled over FCC’s eyes on this. That crèche had run for 38 years (and the Liberal Party can hardly have had lots of spare cash to pay for it when it was founded back in 1977!) . During that 38 years it must have been rare indeed for it to run with no children in it.

    Also, what about contract management? This was not a drop-in crèche. One had to book weeks in advance. The provider could have been given weeks of notice had their been no demand for it for a particular conference. What kind of contract would have had a penalty clause paying £4000 for an empty crèche?

  • It is vital that child care can be provided at conference. Maybe a better supplier can be found ?
    With regards to general campaigning, I had 3 young children when I started campaigning and in order for my husband to come out canvassing with me the wife of the Alliance leader on the Council volunteered to babysit for us. This was a tremendous help. I am sure that there are party members who would be willing to do this because they are unable to be more active. Perhaps when local parties ask their members about their skills, this could be added to the list?

  • There used to be a creche at the Scottish Conference many moons ago (and I’m talking early 1990s here.) However, it was run by volunteers and I think it was when the child protection legislation came in around creches that the decision was taken to abolish it.

    My mum’s way of babysitting when she attended conferences from time to time was to bring me along and listen to the debates. Not that that did me much good….;-)

  • Ruth Bright 10th Jan '16 - 2:37pm

    Keith – bless! What a fine start you had in life!

  • As we have discussed many times, Ruth, if the Lib Dems are ever to get serious about getting women into Parliament they need to make the tough decisions that prioritise putting real resources behind women candidates rather other things they could spend money on. But dont worry, I am sure some more training will fix the problem.

    Also, Orla is going to hate you for that photo…

    x

  • Ed – true on all counts!

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