by Graham Smith

Established in 1974

Like many other local authority related organisations, LARIA evolved from the large-scale local government reorganisation in England and Wales in 1974. Many of the new authorities set up at that time implemented recommendations of the Bains Report which set out various structures and ideas for the management of local councils. Amongst those recommendations was the implementation of Corporate Planning – the fashion of the day in management – and also the suggestion of the setting up of the Research and Intelligence function. In many new authorities, small Corporate Planning Units and R&I Units were set up undertaking much of the work done by present day Policy Units and R&I Units.

Before 1974 there had been R&I Units in the Greater London Council, Cheshire County Council, Kent County Council, Sheffield City Council, and Birmingham City Council, but the Reorganisation saw a vast increase in R&I activity, or activity identified as such.

In May of that year, a group of 23 officers from a variety of authorities attended a seminar for Heads of R&I Sections organised by the Institute of Local Government Studies (INLOGOV) at a hotel in Birmingham. This was in effect the first LARIA Conference. Out of this seminar and a further one, evolved a group of R&I officers calling itself the R&I Steering Group – the title LARIA did not come into being until some four years later. This group began to meet regularly and organised (with considerable help from INLOGOV) seminars and small conferences providing a networking arrangement by looking at R&I issues and in particular the relationship between R&I and Corporate Planning. Over the next few years, conferences were held annually at venues around Great Britain – and this has continued on an annual basis to the present day. Each autumn a seminar (for Heads of R&I units only initially) was held until 1994 to discuss R&I management issues.

The R&I Steering Group met regularly and comprised principally heads of R&I Units in local authorities around Great Britain and was serviced by INLOGOV. The meetings were chaired on a rotating basis between the Group members, until 1978 when a permanent Chair was elected from amongst the Group. A list of the elected Chairs of LARIA is shown at the foot of this article. It was at about this point that it was decided to rename the Steering Group as the Steering Group of LARIA – the Local Authorities Research and Intelligence Association. The Association was still very dependent both in terms of secretarial and financial support.

Into the 1980s

In 1979, it was thought that to widen its networking impact, a newsletter was first produced – R&I News, later to become LariaNews. Apart from a few larger gaps in its first few years of production, this newsletter has been published regularly three times a year.

Other publications have been produced by LARIA over the years including a series of monographs covering topics such as corporate planning, survey techniques and population estimation. LARIA also produced a Research Education and Training Guide and in collaboration with Kirklees Council, a popular publication on Including Disabled People in Communication and Consultation, and Proceedings of various LARIA Annual Conferences.

Occasionally LARIA has commissioned organisations and individuals to undertake investigations of the workings of research in local authorities – INLOGOV in the early days, and more recently the School for Advanced Urban Studies, and then Leeds Metropolitan University. Two publications have also been commissioned on the Statutory Requirements for Research – in 2003 for England and Wales and 2009 for Scotland.

In 1986 the LARIA secretarial and financial support role passed to IPF Ltd, the commercial arm of CIPFA. The relationship between LARIA and IPF Ltd came to an end in 1990 when LARIA then decided to “go it alone”.

Into the 1990s

Over the following two years, preparations were made to put LARIA on a more formal footing and in 1992, LARIA became a Specially Authorised Society under the Friendly Societies Act 1974, its formal membership being the individuals on the Steering Group.

LARIA has always tried to cover the needs of all those in the UK, but in 1993, LARIA in Scotland (LiS) was formed under the umbrella of LARIA – this aimed to cater for the specific needs of those practising R&I in Scotland where the local government structure is slightly different to that in England and Wales. Its inaugural conference was held in December 1993, and frequent events and other activity continued. There was a period of inactivity between 2003 and 2008, but the LiS Steering Group is now operating fully and actively.

As LARIA developed over the years, it relied heavily on the voluntary efforts of members of the Steering Group, and with its increasing activity it became clear that reliance on voluntary effort alone could not be sustained. LARIA therefore appointed an Administrator in 1994 to undertake much of the administrative tasks previously undertaken by the officers of the Association and event organisers.

Income from events run by LARIA provided a surplus that enabled it to circulate widely a free newsletter (read by some 4,000 people), but again it was becoming increasingly difficult to organise such events (about five day seminars per year and an Annual Conference) by voluntary means. An Events Organiser was therefore appointed in 1997.

In 1997 LARIA launched its first website and this has run successfully since, a revamp being undertaken in 2009 bringing it closer to the websites for CLIP, IDeA and the LGA.

Into the new century

LARIA felt it needed to make sure that it was keeping track of the needs of those working in R&I activities, so in 1999, the Steering Group held an Awayday to consider how LARIA should face the challenges ahead. One of the most significant things discussed at the Awayday was the formal statement aims and purpose of the organisation. The purpose of LARIA was described as:

“To promote the role and practice of research within the field of local government and provide a supportive network for those conducting or commissioning research”

In achieving this LARIA stated that its five key aims were:

  • to promote research in the field of local government
  • to support those conducting or commissioning research
  • to share ‘information’
  • to enable networking
  • to influence key agencies/opinion formers

The other major development from the Awayday was to introduce a membership structure. Until then, there had been no formal membership (other than the Steering Group members being considered as the members for the purposes of the Friendly Society status) – there had just been a list of newsletter recipients. After considerable debate a membership structure was put in place on 1 January 2001, with three forms of membership – full, corporate and associate. A result of this was that from then onwards, all full members were given the opportunity to elect officers of the Association and to elect members of the new LARIA Council (replacing the former self-elected Steering Group).

The Awayday had been so successful that similar events were held in 2002 and 2006, the latter in particular generating interest in revamping the website.

In 2002, LARIA was approached by ALGIS, the Affiliation of Local Government Information Specialists, which having been formed 11 years previously under the umbrella of the Institute of Information Scentists, found that that arrangement was unable to continue. Votes were taken from both ALGIS members and LARIA full members as to whether ALGIS should affiliate itself to LARIA. A resounding agreement gave rise to ALGIS in LARIA becoming an autonomous group affiliated to LARIA. Having operated as an autonomous group for 6 years ALGIS eventually merged fully into LARIA in 2008 becoming one of LARIA’s Activity Groups, alongside LARIA in Scotland, The Strategy and Policy Group, the Events Group, the Website Group, the Newsletter Group and the Member Development Group.

Also in 2002, the LARIA Excellence in Research Award was founded and a trophy, and CACI sponsored data has been awarded to the winning local authority. The winning authority has presented its project to the Annual Conference.

In 2003 a further paid member of staff was added in the form of a Promotions Co-ordinator to tie in with the fifth of LARIA’s key aims listed above. LARIA has developed a range of exhibition promotional material which has been shown at the Local Authority Chief Executives Annual Conferences, the Association of Regional Observatories Conferences, and numerous other workshops, seminars and events in recent years.

And in 2007, in recognising the growing importance of local partnership working beyond local councils, LARIA agreed a new strapline, “supporting local researchers in the public sector”, reflecting the changing, evolving and diverse arrangements for research & intelligence in local areas.