Exclusive: SNP Depute candidate raises concerns charities may be “priced-out” of SNP conference

Charities and campaign organisations speak out over hiked SNP conference pricing

SNP DEPUTE LEADERSHIP candidate Chris McEleny has voiced his concerns over the possibility of charities being “priced out” of the SNP’s annual conference in October at Glasgow’s Scottish Exhibition and Conference Centre (SECC).

As well as a large seated are for speeches, votes and other conference matters, political party conferences usually have a large fringe venue with organisations hosting stalls and fringe meetings and rallies. However prices have increased considerably to take part in such fringe events at this years SNP conference.

The SNP Inverclyde councillor told CommonSpace that whilst the logistical difficulties of putting on an event such as the annual SNP conference should be considered, special arrangements ought to be made for non-profits.

He said: “If charities are priced out that’s not acceptable.

“There are practicalities that a party of our size faces, and that has to be born in mind.

“With the size of our membership, something like the SECC is the only type of venue that can accommodate our membership. It’s only £30 for each delegate to attend, and that price is kept low by charging for fringe events and so forth, and I would hope that corporate stalls would help subsidise those costs.

“That being said I think if you’ve got a set amount of room for stalls, then charities should have a set number of them, if not for free then for a price that won’t be too high.”

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The contender for the leading SNP post said he hoped the issue would be resolved.

“There’s still a month until conference, and I would hope these issues could be ironed out. If any charities are concerned about this matter they can contact me,” he said.

The comments are a response to inflated prices at the 2016 SNP October conference.

The largest stalls, of 6 x 8 metres will cost organisations £19,896 over three days, with a £509.34 booking fee. Small stalls are cheaper, and there are discounted rates for charities.

However, a 6 x 8 metres charity stall will still cost £11,983 with an additional booking fee of £311.

The smallest and cheapest stall for a registered charity will be £2,985 with an additional fee of £86.57, however this price is for a stall space just 3 x 2 metres.

The cheapest fringe meeting for charities cost over £1000.

The prices are several times higher than at the 2015 SNP conference in Aberdeen, and a lower price scale for third sector organisations in 2015 has been discarded completely in the 2016 price scheme.

One organisation told CommonSpace that their quoted price for the 2016 organisation was more than 400 per cent of their 2015 price.

Liz Murray of the registered charity and campaigning group Global Justice Now told CommonSpace that the “sky high” fees were in danger of excluding organisations and depriving delegates and elected representatives of access to political issues.

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She said: “The way that the SNP conference is currently set up excludes many organisations in the voluntary sector who just can’t afford to pay the sky high fees to hold a fringe event in the venue.  The shame of this is that SNP politicians and party members miss out on the creative and innovative thinking and the grassroots experience that smaller organisations would bring.”

The high prices at the conference have prompted several non-profit, charity and campaigning organisations including The New Economics Foundation, Compass and CommonWeal think tanks and campaigning groups and registered charities including Global Justice Now, Friends of the Earth Scotland and World Wildlife Fund Scotland, to set up their own festival in the Glasgow Science Centre next to the SECC. The festival will run concurrently with the SNP conference from 13-15 October.

Murray argued that the alternative festival showed the need for the SNP to improve access to its conference.

She said: “That Common Weal have organised this separate festival of ideas outside the main conference venue demonstrates the need for wider access to the conference itself.  We’re really pleased to take part in what should be a fascinating event, with such a broad range of dynamic organisations and creative thinkers.  We really hope that the SNP conference delegates take the time to visit it.

Mick Napier of the Scottish Palestine Solidarity Campaign told CommonSpace that party delegates have a right to explore wider political issues.

He said: “I think it’s shocking the price for a stall, shameful.

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“This makes it more difficult for SNP members to access a full toolbox of ideas, a full spectrum of truly radical ideas.”

Asked what he wanted to achieve from contributing to the alternative festival, Napier said: “We want to access a very large number of politically engaged people, and enter into a full and free exchange of ideas with all of them.”

The SNP’s annual conference is set to be the most important in years.

It comes months after the UK’s shock vote to leave the EU on 23 June, an event which First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said made a second referendum on Scottish Independence “highly likely”.

It also comes in the wake of the devolution of further tax and spending powers to Scotland, powers which prompted the SNP to promise the creation of a new social security service.

An SNP spokesperson told CommonSpace: “There are a range of options available to organisations who wish to exhibit or host fringe events. We always welcome a range of external organisations to Conference and our members enjoy the contribution they make to the event.”

Picture courtesy of the SNP

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