Party conference exhibitors

Mark Pack has a good piece on party conference and the fact that a certain council has spent considerable funds attending Labour conference. Iain Dale has followed up on that piece suggesting that perhaps other councils should now consider whether it is in the best interest of local council taxpayers for them to attend party conference.

Both good pieces, but how about some thoughts from someone who as part of their role was to organise the presence of a large organisation (Royal Mail) at the three party conferences.

The cost to Royal Mail and therefore indirectly the taxpayer was well (and I mean well) into six figures every year as they attended each of the three party conferences. Frankly none of the parties should feel more virtuous than the others as just for the space to exhibit they charged circa £15,000 for the three/four day event. That doesn’t cover the cost of the stand (which at best would last for three years before the need for a total rebuild) ,the staff cost, the cost of transportation, the hotel costs, and indeed the extra corporate passes (another way to make money) which cost up to £400 a piece. I wonder how many public sector organisations will be paying that amount for party conferences passes.

The interesting bit about Royal Mail when I was there was that they attended the three main party conferences for the very reason that they knew they had to stay apolitical. It would have made much more financial sense to attend the party of Government but that would not be the done thing. What was interesting in the case of Royal Mail is that regular conference goers will know they provide a post office service where people can post their items and buy stamps etc. It didn’t make money. It was to offer a service to delegates. It needed the post office computer system set up (at a cost) and proper post office branch staff, along with passes for the postmen at each conference venue to collect the mail.

And guess what? Until we made sure there was a renegotiation, the part of the stand that offered the service also cost Royal Mail (and the taxpayer) money, and the parties were happy to charge. So out of the say £20,000 just for the space of the Royal Mail stand, half (therefore a cost of say £10,000) was actually offering delegates a service.

My understanding is that this now doesn’t happen, and they only charge for the corporate side of things. But there lies the issue. If MPs want a Royal Mail stand and a post box and post office representatives to talk to perhaps Royal Mail should be able to attend free of charge?

Can a party of Government justify charging an organisation to provide apost office service when over the last few years they have been closing the same service up and down local communities? Just asking?


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