25 years of public service risk management and insurance

A personal reflection on Alarm conferences

In the calm after the storm that was the 2016 Alarm Conference, Paul Dudley Corporate Risk Advisor for the City of London Corporation and Alarm Board Director, recounts his experiences of Alarm and the conferences over the past 25 years.

As I was leaving this year’s conference in Manchester to catch the train home, I met a first time Alarm conference delegate who told me how much he had enjoyed the previous two days. It was clear he had been enthused by the experience.

This conversation reminded me of my first Alarm conference, in fact the very first Alarm conference, held in Peterborough in 1992. I don’t remember too much about the content except that the keynote speaker was Dr Brian Mawhinney, the local MP at the time. There was a small supplier exhibition, which included Zurich Municipal (a key Conference sponsor) and a range of companies promoting physical security and fleet management products and services. This is in contrast to today’s conference, which now boasts a range of insurers, brokers, software suppliers, loss adjusters and lawyers.

The first conference was held at a time that was a professional crossroads for local authority risk management. With the demise of MMI, local authorities had to purchase insurance from the Lloyds market. In response insurers wanted to see local authorities institute risk management programmes, which at the time focused on operational risks such as reducing incidents of school arson. Alarm, then known as the Association of Local Authority Risk Managers, was established to support the new emerging discipline of local authority risk management.

The Peterborough conference proved important to me as I had just been asked to head up the new insurance and risk management team at Hertfordshire County Council. This conference came just at the right time for me, as well as the many hundreds of local authority officers who found themselves in a similar position. Alarm’s conference provided an opportunity to meet fellow colleagues who were learning about risk management for the first time: many of those I met on that day are still in the business.

Looking back at the topics covered at the first one-day conference, they included driver and fleet management, along with security installations in schools and other premises and how these could reduce the number and cost of insurance claims. This reflected interest at the time in operational risk management. While these topics are still included in the annual conference programmes there has been a shift to recognise that Alarm Members now work across the public sector. Risk management, as a discipline, has grown significantly, to encompass all business risk. Nowadays there are workshop sessions for those interested in insurance, housing, blue light, risk and a range of generic topics.

From Peterborough the conference venue moved around England and Wales between Warwick, Cardiff, Bournemouth, Telford, Birmingham and Manchester, where it will return next year. In many ways the Alarm conference mirrors the growth, development and professionalism of the Alarm organisation.


"In many ways the Alarm conference mirrors the growth, development and professionalism of the Alarm organisation."                         

The conference now has 15 sponsors, with thirty exhibitors attending in 2016.  I noticed that this year one of the exhibitors was a well-known supplier of mobile classrooms and office accommodation. They would not have looked out of place at the very first exhibition. I guess little changes!

For many years Alarm had a dedicated conference committee, who working with Keith Southwell and the rest of the Alarm office, developed the conference programme, sourced the speakers, visited conference venues and even tasted the food at proposed venues! Those days are gone. While there is still input from board directors as well as sponsors and other stakeholders in the development of conference programmes, the Alarm office is now a highly experienced, professional conference organiser.

2016 Alarm Risk AwardsThe annual conference is the blue riband event of Alarm. It is also an opportunity to celebrate excellence in the profession at its annual awards dinner held on the Monday evening of the conference. The Awards were introduced in the early 1990’s and have been a feature of all conferences ever since. I have been fortunate to be associated with a couple of recognised entries which have been very useful is raising the profile of risk management back at base. As they say, you have to be in it to win it so do consider submitting an application for 2017. 

The relative (mis)fortunes of the public sector have affected Member numbers attending conference. It has been noticeable that in the last few years numbers have fallen, causing concern to the Alarm board and many of our stakeholders. The board took a risk-based decision that from 2016, as a member benefit, the conference fee would be included in the membership. I was delighted to see that this year there were over 500 attendees a day and over 350 people went to the Award’s dinner. These numbers approached the conference attendance peak, which occurred in 2007 at Cardiff. It has been a real pleasure to see the conference once again in good health!

I have attended all the Alarm conferences bar one. They have helped me develop as a professional risk manager. I have learnt about new areas of risk and best practice, as well as networking with colleagues across the membership and companies and organisations that work with the public sector. Even today I can draw on this knowledge and network to support risk management developments back in my workplace.

During the last 25 years, there have also been lots of incidents and amusing stories that would probably make for a much more interesting article, but as a politician might say, they will have to wait for my memoirs!

Here’s to many more happy and successful conferences.