LARIA Chair’s Report 2021

LARIA - Local Area Research + Intelligence Association

Published: 14 July 2021

LARIA Annual General Meeting 2021

Chair's Report, 10 June 2021

A lot has changed recently in all our lives, and things may never be how they were. For LARIA, the impact of the pandemic has meant that we have paid a heavy, but unavoidable, financial price for the changes we have had to make. However, we are also delivering a successful programme of online events, and our membership numbers continue to increase.

As LARIA Council, the group of volunteers that steers LARIA, we had already discussed and agreed the need to make changes to our operating model, which had remained largely unchanged for many years. Covid-19 brought those plans forward, but also stopped us delivering on some of our aspirations for the moment.

In 2020, we had to cancel our annual conference and the venue booking. The annual conference, the venue booking and the amount of the work that goes into organising the conference and management, means they carry a significant financial liability and risk for LARIA. The events, when they run, also deliver a small surplus, which we invest back into LARIA.

But due to coronavirus, we had to cancel our 2020 annual conference. This was a significant cost to LARIA, without any income to offset it. But LARIA Council felt it was the right decision to take to protect LARIA from further financial penalty.

Instead, we ran a successful webinar series last autumn and we are just completing our spring webinar series. I would like to that all the speakers who gave up their time to share the great work they have done with their fellow LARIA members. These events have been free to attend for all LARIA full individual members and LARIA corporate members, as a benefit of their membership fee. This will continue. My thanks to Gerallt and the LARIA events group for all the work that has gone into making these events happen.

We hope to continue the webinar series with further events, and as ever we value your feedback and input on what you would like to see and hear about. When the time is right, we will again hold face-to-face events, as we know the networking value that they hold. Once we reintroduce our physical events, we plan to continue with our online offer to give you more opportunities to share your work, and to hear and learn from colleagues.

As we haven't held physical events, our main source of income is membership fees. This income stream goes towards the costs of arranging and hosting our online events, managing our membership, and managing and communicating with our members through emails and our website. We currently have over 1,300 members in LARIA, and I really appreciate the financial support of all LARIA members, particularly through the past 12 months.

In last year's chair's report, I talked about the fine balance of LARIA's finances between survival and not. 2020 has shown us that is very real. Due to previous financial prudence, we have been able to weather the storm by using our reserves, but our financial challenge remains, and offsetting income with reserves is not sustainable.

LARIA operations

This year, John Woolham steps down from LARIA Council. John has been a great support to LARIA Council and the events group. Previously, he had been instrumental in the running of the Social Services Research Group (SSRG) and worked with LARIA to bring the SSRG and LARIA together. My thanks to John, and, on behalf of LARIA, I wish him all the very best for the future.

Our trustees' meetings, held in the autumn each year, continue to hold LARIA Council to account, and they support LARIA's strategic direction. I thank the trustees for their continued backing and thank Andy for his input into those meetings.

We are holding the LARIA Research Impact Awards this year, after a pause last year. My thanks to Juliet for your work in making the awards happen and to the award judges for their input and expertise.

Due to the pandemic and its impact on our workloads in our day jobs, we have made a slight amendment to the election cycle to LARIA Council. The chair, vice-chair and vice-chair designate will all be elected for one year this year and again in 2022, until we return to the usual two-year cycle after that.

My thanks to LARIA Council for the support it has given LARIA and the specific tasks that you have delivered on the council's behalf. Your time and effort are very much appreciated, as always. And, I would also like to acknowledge the help and contribution from our partner CACI Ltd, and our media partner the Local Government Chronicle (LGC).

Priority for the next 12 months

Since the last AGM, LARIA Council has increased its focus on our events offer and communicating that through our membership and more widely through media channels, such as the LGC. LARIA Council will continue to focus on the events offer in the next 12 months, and this will hopefully include planning on the reintroduction of our face-to-face annual conference, whilst maintaining our online events. The other main priority is to balance our core costs against incomes, and to do that we need a second partner to support us and work with us.

Mike Walker
May 2021