All at Pluss congratulate our business writer, Paul Wilson, on his recent appointment as the new Chairman of the British Association of Supported Employment (BASE). His appointment was announced at the recent BASE conference in Bristol which Pluss attended. As well as having an information stand our CEO Martin took part in a panel discussion around the Review of the Disability Employment Strategy and delivered a session on how to harness the expertise of specialist providers through effective targetting of public investment.
We also sponsored the SW Employer of the Year Award and were thrilled that SWM, who we nominated, were the winners. Another Pluss nominee, Wiltshire Police, were commended.
Read on for Paul’s blog on the conference & what it means to the sector.
Autumn is traditionally conference season – and not just for politicians. It’s also the time when disability employment practitioners gather together with politicians, civil servants, commissioners and a sprinkling of employers and carers to spend two days at the BASE conference debating and reflecting on how to get more people with disabilities into work, and more young disabled people aspiring to work.
Last week’s 8th annual BASE conference was held in Bristol. Almost 200 delegates took part in the two day conference and the evening dinner and awards ceremony which is sandwiched in-between.
In some ways it was a typical conference: the Mayor was a little late arriving to open the event, a keynote speaker came down ill the night before the conference, and a handful of delegates were as determined as ever to road-test the night-life of the conference city until it was night-time no longer.
Each year, those of us helping to organise the event worry about whether enough people will come, whether Ministers will arrive on time, whether staff at the venue will be civil enough (by common consent they were fantastic this year), whether the food will be alright (almost universally it was praised), what piece of equipment might fail or go missing, what speeches and introductions will need a last minute re-write.
A conference organiser surely lives on his or her nerves: all that careful planning only to be faced with the inevitable last minute hiccups and no-shows that make the conference itself a two day roller coaster of anxiety and adrenalin as everyone strives to make it look serene and untroubled.
As BASE’s new Chairman, I’m acutely conscious of the importance of an event like this, not only for delegates taking time out of their busy working lives to attend the conference but also for the sector as a whole as we seek to put supported employment centre stage on a big stage for two full days.
And now that it’s over?
The feedback so far from those who attended this year’s conference has been almost entirely positive. In some cases it’s been deeply moving.
As austerity continues to grip the public life of the nation and public sector disinvestment continues, as welfare reform accelerates and the disability employment sector is once again faced with change, it was encouraging to see not only a packed house but the sense of energy which was evident throughout the two days as people from across the UK and beyond exchanged stories, debated the issues and offered support to each other in the way that our sector is rightly renowned for.
Ours is a challenging sector to work in. It demands both a drive to achieve results and, simultaneously, a recognition that we work with individuals whose range of support needs sometimes make them vulnerable and who place their trust in us that we will work at all times in their best interests.
It’s also a sector waiting to see, in the impending cross-government Disability Employment Strategy, whether the Government will back it fully, will acknowledge its importance, and will recognise the critical differences between what we do as part of a specialist disability arm of the welfare to work industry and what a mainstream Work Programme can provide.
For that reason, I hope the Conference in Bristol sent delegates back home to their day jobs with a renewed sense of commitment. I hope it allowed them to see that this is a good industry to work in, and good work to do. I hope it helped them to recognise, even on days that are difficult and in times of setback, that what they do really can make a difference to people’s lives.