Or how we began networking best practices for local authority debt collection...
In the beginning LACEF (or rather the inhouse bailiff network as it was originally called) was an idea to network with other local authority in-house bailiffs collecting poll tax, business rates and the new council tax.
Back in the early 1990s most local authorities in East Sussex employed their own bailiffs. This was fine but if you ever came up against a difficult situation then it was almost impossible to get a legal opinion or support.
By this time I was a member of the then CBA (Certificated Bailiffs Association) and I bounced around an idea of having a local government membership group but this didn’t happen. An approach to IRRV met the same response.
Don’t forget this was pre-internet and email days in most local authorities. I canvassed some local authorities and put on our first ‘seminar’ in 1997. Our subject was a discussion on using insolvency to recover debts. About 20 people attended from nearly every local authority in Sussex. The added attraction was a free pint afterwards! And it worked.
Of course we were not called LACEF then. I arranged meetings every 6 months or so simply because of the demand for different subjects to be discussed. It was helped by the number of people who were willing to give up their free time to come and talk to us.
Word soon spread and we began to have meetings in London and the Midlands. We even got as far as Plymouth with the added bonus of staying over in Cornwall for me.
Two things happened that boosted us into the big time;
I was invited to join an advisory group on bailiff reform and the arrival of email into the local authority world.
Everyone was talking about civil enforcement and it was clear that the subject of debt collection was growing wider. So I decided to call the group LACEF and began using email discussion groups to support our irregular seminars. The sheer diversity of the queries and items for discussion made me realise that there was this huge void. Luckily, the more learned and experienced members meant that it was very rare for any query not to get resolved, often with 24 hours. Despite changes to how we keep in touch (originally Topica, then Google Groups and now Knowledge Hub) the stream of questions never seems to slow down. I am constantly struck by the variety and depth and to the help given in return. LACEF must literally save local authorities thousands of pounds every year.
Membership grew because of simple premises;
- it would always be free
- it’s for council staff only, whatever level
- members give up their time to respond to queries
- we are supported by a group of ‘experts’ from the private sector
It was a natural progression to aim for a ‘proper’ annual conference and these began in 2006. The newly formed Credit Collection & Risk magazine supported us at this inaugural event. I’m sure they learnt as much we did that day. Their annual CCRi in London is one of the biggest of its type.
The event was a great success even though our keynote speaker failed to turn up!
The more recent conferences at Leicester, supported by the sister magazine, CCR-Public Sector has seen this grow into the biggest and best supported conference of its type – and of course it’s free to LACEF members. We continue to attract high calibre speakers and this speaks volumes for LACEF.
It always amazes me that when I stand up to welcome all the booted and suited delegates to a very professional conference that this all started from very humble beginnings.
Anyway, here's a link to this years conference in Leicester:http://www.ccrmagazine.com/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=8473&Itemid=110