A road trip to Birmingham

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img_8566Party conferences offer a good opportunity to hear at close hand what politicians are thinking – especially in the hundreds of varied Fringe events which take place away from the rather stage-managed agenda of the main hall.

That’s why Public Affairs Co-Op travelled to the Conservative Party Conference in Birmingham this week, working with our client Confor – the trade body for the forestry and timber sector.

Although politicians have very packed diaries at conference, there are regular chances to speak to them at receptions – and to see how they cope in the glare of often challenging Q&A sessions.

Our own Fringe event for Confor was very successful, with a packed room led through a fast-paced session by chairman Guy Opperman, MP for Hexham (and a former jockey and barrister before Westminster called). Confor’s Chief Executive Stuart Goodall was joined by Beccy Speight of one of the UK’s most influential environmental charities, The Woodland Trust, and Ross Murray, President of the CLA (Country Land and Business Association).

Finding common ground with other groups is crucial as the rural industries discuss what will happen after Brexit, especially in terms of what future funding support will look like as we move towards the final years of the often-criticised Common Agricultural Policy.

Identifying these areas of potential collaboration is crucial, in rural affairs and all other sectors. Organisations like Confor and The Woodland Trust have different aims and objectives, but there are areas where these aims and objectives meet – the overlapping parts of the Venn Diagram if you remember your school maths! At our event, a comment by Beccy Speight resonated very clearly with Confor’s own view: “It’s about planting the right tree in the right place but above all, planting more trees of whatever type.”

Finding these “sweet spots” is important for Public Affairs Co-Op, in all areas of our work – whether that is rural affairs, further education, renewable energy or general public policy. Politicians and other decision-makers are always more likely to listen to what you are saying if you make a common approach, and if they know they can tick more than one box with a particular course of action.

PAC also recognises the need for straightforward documents which put across (often complex) ideas in a clear and positive way. We have produced many documents for different clients and launched Confor’s latest report on forestry and Brexit at this week’s conference.

The event presented a great opportunity to get the document into the hands of both MPs and MSPs, as well as their staff and local politicians. With so many demands on their time, clear messages are crucial. And conference offers a chance to deliver those messages up close and personal.

Next week, Public Affairs Co-Op will be at Confor’s All-Party Parliamentary Group on Forestry in London and then at SNP conference in Glasgow. October is a busy month!