We hold our one day seminar on the White Paper at Manchester's new Hilton skyscraper. Its only been open a few months and I have previously driven detours around it as it constantly reminds me of the 1970s film towering inferno. Obviously others have thought the same as several people reference the film during the day, adding to my feeling of unease.
David Prout the Lead Civil Servant on the Local Government Bill follows my opening scenesetting of the conference and the 175 delegates are willing to engage in debate with him. Especially after I stir things up by pointing out that there has been no engagement or consultation with the masses in Local Government, David responds by referencing discussions with the LGA since 2004. At this point I decide to utilise the old trick of bringing in the audience asking how many people in the room feel they have had the opportunity to put forward their views or influence the process, David's hand is the only one which rises - 15 love. To be fair a lot of what David says is welcomed and he takes on board the point made.
Michael Hughes in his new role as Director of Studies at the Audit Commission also makes a good contribution and Steve Cirell from Eversheds gets in a laugh by suggesting that if anyones mobile phone goes off during his session then they have to get up and sing the first record they ever bought.
We have some really good interactive workshops in the afternoon covering topics such as citizen engagement, choice, community ownership and Best Value. One of the points that strikes me is if we really want to engage with the public and design user responsive services then we should really be trying to harness the information exchange that takes place at the interface between those on the ground who deliver services and those who consume them. In my experience this often happens one step removed from this.