V4CE at Party Conferences

V4CE’s first ever fringe events at the Party Conferences 2010:
Equality, fairness and the Big Society

Voice4Change England (V4CE) has attended the party conferences over several years, but in 2010 we were excited to hold our first ever fringe events.

We decided to hold our events on ‘Equality, fairness and the Big Society; as we felt that equality had been absent from many conversations on Big Society. Through our fringe events we wanted to raise awareness of the importance of embedding equality in the Big Society and demonstrate the key role of the BME and wider equality sector in creating a Big Society.

We were fortunate to be working with our colleagues in NCVYS and the Youth Zone. They helped with event logistics and their experience as we tried to ensure that the BME VCS was visible.

Liberal Democrat party conference
Labour party conference
Conservative party conference

Liberal Democrat party conference fringe event

Our first fringe event was at the Liberal Democrat party conference. We nervously waited for the audience to arrive and we pleased to attract 12 delegates to our relatively small venue. We had lined up 4 speakers who all proved to be very engaging.

First up was Omar Khan from the Runnymede Trust. He spoke about the distinction between localism and the Big Society and emphasised the potential for BME communities to make local institutions more accountable. He said that the role of infrastructure is key to enable voices to be heard. Ann Blackmore from NCVO was next. She outlined the opportunity for VCOs to define the Big Society. She stressed that that sector’s advice and advocacy function is vital to ensure all can engage in the Big Society.

Following Ann, Faiza Chaudary from NCVYS spoke about the inclusion and involvement of young people as essential to the success of Big Society. She urged for less competition and more celebration in the sector and highlighted NCVYS’ 'blue print' project to capture some of the stories of young people.

Our final speaker was Cllr Rabi Martins, Diversity advisor for Liberal Democrats. He said that for the Liberal Democrats, localism and Big Society were one and the same. He stressed the importance of cutting red tape for the sector and the opportunities and challenges of the Big Society bank. He highlighted the Big Society pilots and encouraged us to follow the results and engage with them.

A key message was that VCOs continue to face barriers in commissioning processes.


Labour party conference fringe event

Our Labour party fringe event was the smallest, but this did not affect the high quality of the speakers and debate from the audience.

Our first speaker, Sarah Isal from the Runnymede Trust talked about the potential benefits of Big Society and localism for race equality including better tailored services where there are large vibrant BME communities with voice. However she also identified concerns around accountability and who contributes.

Our second speaker was Belinda Pratten from NCVO. Belinda stressed the vital role of the VCS including the BME VCS if the Big Society is to work and be fair to all. Cuts will make this difficult and the VCS including support organisations should not be seen as a light touch in the short term. We need to get better at demonstrating our impact and our contribution to engaging and developing communities needs to be recognised.

Alun Michael MP was our final speaker. He said it was important that the BME VCS is recognised as a distinctive part of the sector. He is fearful about the pace and scale of the cuts and highlighted the risk that Big Society is done onto us.

A key message is that there is a need for equality VCOs to develop networks of solidarity to successfully support communities in the future.


Conservative party conference fringe event

Our final fringe event was our most popular, attracting nearly 30 delegates. We had another great line up of speakers and audience debate was so good that we ran well over the finish time!

Starting the session was Rob Berkeley from the Runnymede Trust. He highlighted that the speed of cuts is destabilising the BME VCS. There are opportunities to further equality within the context of localism and Big Society. But accountability needs to be built around creating a minimum standard, access to public services, and how to reach dispersed communities. Moving forward he would like to see the Equality Act and guidance used to make a difference; new models of accountability; and better outcomes for BME communities.

Neil Cleeveley from NAVCA spoke next. He emphasised that local councils have a crucial role in ensuring all voices are heard, not just the loudest, including through conducting Equality Impact Assessments. There needs to be a way to ensure communities of interest are heard and VCOs have an important role in holding local authorities to account. Following Neil, Faiza Chaudary from NCVYS made the important link between communities and engaging young people so that they can contribute fully in the future. There is an important link here for the BME VCS in terms of BME young people.

Our final speaker was Eric Ollerenshaw MP, who talked about the Big Society Bank and the importance of local people taking responsibility to make local services more responsive. He agreed that race is important and that evidence on needs and barriers is needed.

A key message was that we need to inform the Big Society and come together to create an evidence based, money saving narrative that promotes social justice.