Hubs, Handshakes and Heated Exchanges - FTA at Party Conference 2013

Posted on: Monday, 7 October 2013 by Mike Webb in categories Conservative, Labour, Liberal Democrat, Transport Hub

Put a few thousand politicians, lobbyists, journalists and party activists in a convention centre with a couple of adjoining hotels and what do you get? Fevered discussion, a loud phalanx of protestors looking to catch the media eye, conspiracy, friendship, renewal of old acquaintances and above all a good opportunity for serious political discussion.
Once again, FTA spent three weeks in September taking the message of logistics to the heart of the political system at the main three party conferences; through a complex weave of bilateral meetings, chance chats in a hectic corridor, meticulously planned fringe meetings and frank chats over dinner.
For FTA each conference began with the Association’s management of the Transport Hub. ( FTA brings together a wide range of organisations from across the world of transport to share event venue space, promote each other’s events and host the best-attended transport events on the conference programme; the Big Interviews. These saw Norman Baker, Maria Eagle and finally Stephen Hammond given a thorough working over on issues ranging from HS2 to the future of aviation and how to pay for future roads improvements first by top journalists from the Daily Telegraph and Sky News, and then by the gathered audience in a fringe room that was standing room only on each occasion.
Of course, as former Prime Minister Harold MacMillan once famously noted, "events, dear boy, events" are the one thing which can undo all the soundest of planning. Of the three Big Interviewees, two (Baker and Eagle) were reshuffled by their respective leaders the week after Conservative conference was over to other Departments. This does not mean for a moment that the time spent working with them in the preceding weeks has been wasted - both they and their parties will leave conference with a clearer perspective of FTA's views on the key issues; and furthermore in politics you never know where your paths will cross again in the future - a point emphasised by the readmission after a period doing other roles to the Conservative transport team of new minister Robert Goodwill.
Next up, a range of politicians from each of the parties sat down with each of the Transport Hub partners, under the Chairmanship of FTA, for an informal discussion over dinner. Across the 3 dinners around 15 politicians from the three parties held a series of lively discussions which gave the audience a clearer insight into where political thinking lies on transport; and what the key dividing lines are for each party in the run up to the polls in 2015.
FTA has been holding its own fringe event at the three main party conferences for some years; and this year chose to raise the importance of logistics in urban areas under the banner of “Getting Britain’s Cities Moving”. These events give a great opportunity to share ideas with the party grass roots; spreading the FTA message to delegates from across the country that logistics is key to urban development; that excessive PCNs and failure to plan for effective deliveries constitutes a serious barrier to economic recovery, and that poor transport planning is a route to worse safety records and deteriorating air quality. The Conservative event was much the best attended, and delegates rewarded with a typically robust performance from former transport minister Steve Norris in particular; though all three saw an engaging and expert panel that left the audience with much to think about.
One of the advantages of FTA’s prominent role on transport party conference planning is the opportunity to work with other organisations. On this occasion, FTA and Sustrans agreed to participate on panels at each other’s events. This gave FTA the chance to discuss the industry’s challenges and the significant work going on within the logistics industry to improve cycle safety at the Sustrans “Get Britain Cycling” events. Given the high political premium currently placed on cycling safety (over 100 MPs lined up to speak in a debate on the topic in September) this was a key opportunity for FTA to set out the views of logistics.
In addition to the fringe events and dinners; FTA had a lengthy series of meetings with parliamentarians from every party, every region and near enough every legislative body with a mix of MPs, MEPs, Peers and MSPs meeting FTA round the table. These were meetings on a wide variety of topics – from ways to influence the House of Lords to rail freight, the Severn Crossing and European plans for weights and measures regulation amongst others. It is vital that FTA continue to take every opportunity to engage, and every opportunity will be taken in the coming months.
It is a tiring and testing time; 3 weeks of near-constant engagement which, for an organisation which campaigns on many different fronts like FTA, requires a lightness of foot and an ability to move from one issue to another quickly. However, the returns can be significant; and if politicians can be persuaded to return to the normal political life that October brings and talk about FTA’s issues; then it is all to the benefit of logistics.


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