A major debate on the future of the NHS, at which Cambridge’s MPs Health Secretary Andrew Lansley, and Liberal Democrat MP Julian Huppert are to be invited to speak, is to be held in Cambridge.
The commitment to organise the event and invite Lansley and Huppert was made by City Council Leader Sian Reid during the full council meeting last night. Mr Lansley’s constituancy of South Cambridgeshire includes the Queen Edith’s ward of the city of Cambridge.
While the council leader verbally gave her commitment that the event would be organised and the city’s MPs would be invited, she and her Liberal Democrat colleagues repeatedly voted down attempts to pass a formal motion committing the council to holding the event.
I think such an event is a fantastic idea; I would like to see Lansley and Huppert appear in-front of their constituents and those who work in the NHS in their constituencies and explain, defend, and take questions on the proposals.
There appeared to be consensus from around the council chamber that there was a need for reform in the NHS.
Positive elements of the coalition government’s proposals highlighted include increased democratic involvement, including involvement of local councillors. Giving more power to GPs, the people patients actually meet was supported, particularly in a contribution by Liberal Democrat Sarah Brown. Cllr Brown was also one of those arguing the current PCT system wasn’t working – she related an example of Cambridgeshire PCT spending more money denying someone treatment than it would have cost to provide it.
Cllr Bick brandished a letter he said had been sent to him, and other members, by the NHS Cambridgeshire PCT, which he said spoke positively about outsourcing NHS provision to private companies. Labour councillors heckled and claimed there were key differences between the use of private companies to-date and the “wholesale privatisation” proposed by the current government.
Cllr Bick suggested that greater involvement of local councillors would result in a greater focus on public health, and prevention of health problems.
Labour councillors raised a concern that EU procurement rules would require GPs to accept the lowest bidder, rather than selecting on quality. They also worried that private companies would cherry pick the profitable bits of the NHS leaving the tax-payer to deal with the rest.
Green Cllr Wright expressed a concern that democratic representatives might struggle to get their voices heard in a privatised NHS where profit was the primary consideration.
Cllr Julie Smith was the Liberal Democrat who expressed the strongest concerns about what her party was doing in government, speaking against “privatisation” .
Labour Cllr Dryden read from a January 2010 Telegraph article about a Lansley donor potentially benefiting from NHS reforms. Cllr Dryden said Lansley’s donation from John Nash, the chairman of Care UK meant he had a conflict of interest and questioned Lansley’s motivation for the changes he is proposing.
George Owers called the government’s proposals Maoist and said they would damage trust in GPs.
The Debate Debate
The debate was initially called for in a motion put forward by Labour Councillor George Owers. An amendment was proposed by Liberal Democrat Tim Bick which deleted the section calling for the debate. Liberal Democrat leader Sian Reid however spoke during the debate on Cllr Bick’s amendment in favour of holding a public meeting and inviting the MPs, despite this she voted alongside Cllr Bick.
In an attempt to clear up the debacle involving the council leader saying one thing and doing another Cllr Owers proposed an amendment just on the debate to try and formalise the commitment made to holding it but the Liberal Democrats, who have a majority on the city council, voted it down.
The Liberal Democrat’s first reason for rejecting Cllr Owers amendment was that it was unfair to commit the council to doing something which might not be possible given the busy diaries of the city’s MPs. Cllr Owers impressively demolished that argument by breaking down what he was calling for into two parts:
- For a public meeting to be organised.
- For the city’s MPs to be invited to it.
The Liberal Democrats reluctantly agreed that both of those steps were within the realms of the possible and could be accomplished by the council.
The Liberal Democrats then argued that it would be unfair to ask Julian Huppert to explain the coalition government’s proposals to reform the NHS as he is merely a Liberal Democrat backbencher.
Cllr Owers claimed that Mr Huppert was supporting the government’s NHS reforms so he ought be able to explain the reforms and why he was in favour of them to his constituents.
Other Labour members suggested that it shouldn’t be too difficult to get Cambridge’s two MPs in the same place at the same time. They suggested the reason the Liberal Democrats didn’t want to formally pass a motion on organising the event was that they wanted to keep their man, Julian Huppert, from having to appear on the same platform as Health Minister Andrew Lansley, as that wouldn’t look very good from their point of view.
Cllr Kerr, who almost never speaks at full council meetings (she has made one contribution relating to a councillor speed-dating event), appeared very concerned and spoke to Liberal Democrat leader Cllr Reid during a short break in the meeting held to discuss the Liberal Democrat response to Cllr Owers’ attempts to get a formal commitment to the debate. Cllr Kerr was, and I expect still is, a member of Mr Huppert’s staff and it appears she was keen to try and leave plenty of wiggle room for her boss to get out of appearing with Lansley; but she did not put her views on the record in public – she lobbied her leader quietly.
Within moments of council leader Sian Reid committing to invite Julian Huppert to the debate I tweeted Mr Huppert to say:
So @JulianHuppert will you be accepting Cllr Reid’s invite to debate the NHS reforms, in Cambridge, with Lansley? @CamCitCo council #live
Mr Huppert has engaged via twitter with other tweets emerging from the meeting (on Mill Road shops) but has not as yet responded on the matter of the NHS debate.
The Mr Speaker Trap
While he is far too much of an extremist socialist for my liking Cllr George Owers is an excellent, entertaining and engaging speaker and would be well worth any ticket price on his own. A Labour councillor, on his Twitter profile he describes himself as a “conservative”, a “radical” and a “hellraiser”. During his impassioned speech he accidentally addressed what he was saying to “Mr Speaker” rather than “Madam Mayor”. This prompted Cllr Bick, who responded, to accuse him of falling into the “Mr Speaker trap, of trying to run the country from the Guildhall”.
Cllr Owers defended his decision to prompt a debate on the NHS in the Guildhall pointing out it was a matter of great importance to his constituents. Others pointed out Cambridge does not exist in a bubble and has to engage with national policy.
Cllr Clare Blair was still cackling childishly and pointing at Cllr Owers in response to his slip many minutes later; this was Cllr Blair’s only “contribution” to the debate.