Bournemouth in July 2019 seems a lifetime ago. Back then the vast majority had no idea what a ‘coronavirus’ was, Theresa May was still Prime Minister and the Local Government Minister was a talented up and comer called Rishi Sunak. And yet until last week that was the last time the local government family had all got together for the ‘annual’ LGA conference. What a great feeling it was for us all to be back together again.
For your author the journey to Harrogate was a good deal further than the trundle along the south coast to Bournemouth but well worth the journey. Harrogate rolled out the welcome mat and we all stepped in to make the most of the conference.
For the Cratus team it was an important opportunity to reignite the relationships that make our world gel. As well as the many council leaders and chief executive who we were happy to see again, there were a host of new postholders who we were getting to know for the first time. As with other recent LGA conferences it was the Cratus events – our drinks party on Tuesday evening and the LGBTQ+ disco on Wednesday – that got everyone on the dance floor and enjoying themselves into the early hours.
Back in the exhibition hall it was clear that the opportunity to network across the different parts of the sector, without having to check whether you were on mute first, is still a vital part of what we all do. The room was abuzz with conversation as people caught up on the gossip from around the country and explored opportunities for collaboration.
We were visited by Government Ministers, the Shadow Secretary of State and the leader of the Liberal Democrat party who all gave thoughtful speeches and took questions from councillors from across the country and sector. Again, it couldn’t have been clearer how much more productive it is to receive the feedback in person than it is remotely with the audience muted and only let loose one at a time.
By Thursday afternoon the assorted delegates were boarding trains and heading home, no doubt to recover in most cases but with pockets full of business cards and heads full of ideas to follow up on. The sudden shift to online meetings and remote working methods that the pandemic ushered in definitely have their place – but as the LGA Conference in Harrogate proved to all of us wo there, there really is no substitute for getting together once a year. Or for a Cratus Party for that matter.