At the Tunbridge Wells AGM last evening the baton of leadership passed seamlessly to the next generation. In a Party not known for its enthusiasm for change, and an Association which is widely considered to be more staid and traditional than most, it was heartening to see and hear the enthusiasm for the new generation of Association Officers.
I don't for one moment believe in quotas, but those who run any organisation must be able to draw on the widest possible range of experiences to communicate with the electorate. When I first arrived in TW four years ago, we had more Officers over the age of 70 than we had under the age of 50. In fact, apart from the Chair of CF, I don't think we had a single Officer under the age of 50. I appreciate I am straying onto controversial territory here, but it is very difficult for such a group to define the messages which attract a new generation to the Party.
I am not betraying any inside secrets to say that TWCA has been through a turbulent time. Four years ago we occupied a decaying building which was costing the Association almost £30,000 pa to maintain. For every £1 the Association spent on political campaigning it spent £5 on bricks and mortar. This was unforgivable. It is of great credit to the former Officers and the membership that they had the foresight and courage to borrow the funds to renovate the building and rent-out areas unused by the Association. Having had tenants for a year, and witnessing how little money was left from the rental income after paying letting agents fees, insurance, money to a sinking fund for repairs and renovations, corporation tax and all the other associated costs, it is a further credit that a decision was taken two months ago to sell the freehold and securely invest the money to provide long term financial stability for the Association.
Thanks to these decisions, the Association now shares an office with its neighbours and in doing so has stripped out its establishment costs. Where we once spent £30,000 on the building we now spend £3,500 - and spending on campaigning now exceeds spending on establishments costs by 4:1. And that is exactly right - we are, after all, a political party charged with winning elections, We are not landlords or property developers.
But now it's time to stop looking inwards and talking about bricks and mortar. Across Tunbridge Wells there are 30,000 Conservative voters who are not members of our Party. Thanks to the courage of the previous Officer team, the Association has the financial stability to invest funds to contact this next generation and develop a offer which will encourage them to join us. We have a younger Officer team with the IT and communication skills to do so. But just as importantly, we still retain the wisdom and steadying influence of a few 'greybeards' to provide the balance and experience any management group needs.
I am greatly looking forward to the year ahead!