….when asked if councillors would be allowed to vote on plans to take over the NHS
8th December 2017
By Graham Smith
Cornwall council leader Adam Paynter is coming under pressure to repeat the promise of his predecessor and allow all 123 members of the council to vote on proposals to take over the National Health Service.
As things stand the council’s 10-member cabinet, informed by a 6-member inquiry panel which has yet to hold its first meeting, is due to set up an Accountable Care Organisation on 7th February. The council has undertaken no public consultation on the issue.
The decision would nevertheless represent the culmination of more than a year of NHS “public engagement” through the Sustainability and Transformation Plan and Shaping Our Future processes, designed to cut £277 million from Cornwall’s health and social care budget. But crucially, the ACO would transfer huge powers from Whitehall to Truro, as Cornwall opted out of a “National” Health Service and enjoyed “new freedoms” to set its own priorities, west of the River Tamar.
Although healthcare would still be free at the point of delivery (at least in the short-term) critics fear “new freedoms” might mean “lower standards” – and that the council, as the lead commissioning organisation, would have to take very unpopular decisions to close Cornwall’s community hospitals.
On BBC Radio Cornwall yesterday, presenter Laurence Reed three times asked Liberal Democrat council leader Mr Paynter if he would repeat the promise made by his predecessor, former council leader John Pollard, that the full council would be able to debate the issues and if necessary reject government-inspired ideas for how the health service should be run.
The minutes of the 24th January council meeting make it clear that Labour councillor Cornelius Olivier was given an explicit promise of a full debate, and vote, before any final decisions were taken. Cornwall Reports has asked for a copy of the relevant webcast audio-visual recording.
Mr Paynter could give no such promise and three times he dodged the question – to the irritation of several Liberal Democrat councillors who have told Cornwall Reports they fear they will now be blamed for the loss of community health facilities.
Former council leader John Pollard (left) was happy to promise that all 123 members of Cornwall Council would get a vote. But talking to Laurence Reed on BBC Radio Cornwall yesterday (Thursday), current council leader Adam Paynter struggled to give a straight answer.
On 24th January, following a particularly rowdy public meeting in Penzance, the then council leader Mr Pollard was asked by Penzance Labour councillor Cornelius Olivier for a specific assurance that only the full council would make the final decision. Mr Pollard was happy to oblige. The decision is recorded in the council minutes on page 5 – you can download the document here:Printed minutes 24012017 1030 Cornwall Council
An extract from the minutes says: “Councillor Olivier added that there needed to be a clear timetable and a guarantee that if Members chose to reject plans that would happen. Councillor Olivier asked if the Leader agreed that given the level of public concern the Council needed to look sooner at the protection of the health service and send a message to that effect as soon as possible. The Leader advised that the timetable was being prepared and he believed processes were in place. Discussions would go through the Committee and recommendations would be brought to the full Council.”
The chaotic nature of the NHS public engagement exercise was condemned by the council itself on 15th March, when the Health & Adult Social Care scrutiny committee said it was “not fit for purpose.” Yet some of the leading Liberal Democrat councillors who issued press releases critical of the STP process are now pushing for its endorsement on 7th February. Mr Paynter himself has previously attacked Cornwall’s Conservative MPs for failing to protect the community hospitals.
Constitutionally, Mr Paynter is not bound by the promise given by Mr Pollard – there has been a council-wide election since 24th January – but politically, any retreat would be very damaging.
Liberal Democrats are now trying to downplay the importance of the 7th February cabinet meeting, pointing out that any ACO set up on that date would be in only “shadow” form for at least a year. They also point to the failure of the council’s Labour group to take an available place among the six-member inquiry panel.