We had a bumper crop this year. All the main parties set out their stalls. Paul Burstow MP, Jeremy Hunt MP and Andy Burnham MP spoke, but perhaps the most interesting session was when Simon Stevens (head of NHS England) set out some of the issues he faces leading NHS England, and asked for our views.
Inevitably, since the emergence of the disgraceful new grant conditions to be imposed by DCLG to snuff out advocacy in our sector (that morning's Times) there were questions on this. Paul Burstow from the Lib Dems was quick to denounce what he called "the Pickles gag" and Jeremy Hunt, though he would not comment directly on the Pickles move, was clear about charities' right to campaign.
We launched our Alliance Contracting report at the conference. There's more details here.
Alliance Contracting is a new way to promote more collaboration in health and care settings - a post-competition approach that builds on more collaborative approaches and consortia-building. Current government procurement is so often costly and overly bureaucratic. It has favoured private sector bodies too much because we don't operate on a fair playing field. Andy Burnham was particularly supportive of this approach.
Indeed his policies of entrenched rights for the third sector in delivering services, and 5 to 20 year contracts were music to the ears of our members. In fact, as I observed to David Brindle of the Guardian, I think this is the most radical approach to the sector of any politician in any party. Much to be supported and perhaps a benchmark to encourage others to follow. We shall pursue at out forthcoming third sector hustings on 24 March - everyone very welcome!
And let me leave you with some photos of our speakers yesterday.