Monday, 26 September 2011

On the need for transparency

For much of the last year we have tried everything possible to get the Welsh Government to release the details of consultation work carried out again on their behalf into efficiencies within the Welsh NHS: letter after letter, Written Questions, plenary contributions and Freedom of Information requests – then, finally, a complaint to the Information Commissioner.
Last week I asked the First Minister why his government felt it appropriate to withhold this information, despite a legal obligation to do so. Ultimately it took direction from the Information Commissioner, following our complaint, to force his hand on this.
I don’t think we have to stretch the imagination too far to understand why… The documents were a damning indictment of his Government’s management of the NHS in Wales.
When we finally received the information, some 7 months late, the email trail revealed that McKinsey consultants had met with NHS officials to discuss potential ‘efficiency savings’ in the Hilton Hotel of all places; which rather brings to mind a G8 summit on food shortages, where delegates (including Gordon Brown) thought it appropriate to take a 6 course lunch followed by an 8 course dinner.
At this meeting, in the Hilton, several items were put on the agenda:
·         Cutting 1200 nurses;
·         Cutting the number of hospital beds and wards;
·         Closing NHS facilities – and delaying opening new facilities;
·         Freezing promotions for NHS staff;
·         Reducing the number of training places;
·         Leaving NHS vacancies unfilled.
That’s why we need to know whether it is labour’s policy now, or indeed in the future, to cut the number of nurses and hospital beds.
One of the more revealing issues which emerged from the files, and was identified by McKinsey, was a breakdown in trust between the Welsh Government and local health boards. The documents painted a picture of an NHS dictated to from the centre, with health boards afraid to speak out against the financial challenges they were being forced to endure.
A transcript with NHS Directors warned:
LHBs cannot “state the extent of the financial challenges they face or the extent of the cuts necessary… without receiving an unfavourable response from the centre”.
At the very least, if it must be Labour’s policy to cut health spending in Wales, surely this should be done in consultation with, not isolation from, healthcare professionals?
This breakdown in trust between the Welsh Government and health professionals has had wider ramifications too, leading to mixed messages over the provision of frontline NHS care; with patients getting caught in the middle.
The First Minister repeatedly claims to have eliminated the use of private sector hospitals, whilst at least one LHB has been busy drawing up provisional plans for the use of the local independent sector.
That’s why we need clarity from Carwyn over Welsh Government policy on the use of the independent sector in the Welsh NHS. We need clarity from Carwyn over possible cuts to nurses and hospital beds. And most of all we need to see a culture of transparency and trust restored to the heart of the Welsh Government.

Monday, 19 September 2011

Enterprise Zones - just what exactly are we waiting for?

Some time ago the UK Government announced decisive plans to try and boost economic growth in the UK through the creation of ‘Enterprise Zones’, where businesses will benefit from reduced business rates, faster broadband speeds and relaxed planning rules. I have, alongside Welsh Conservative colleagues in the National Assembly, been urging the Minister for Business , Enterprise & Technology to implement a similar scheme here in Wales that would put in place the necessary conditions to establish Wales as a place to set up and develop businesses.
Last week there appeared, at long last, to be some movement from the Welsh Government on this; with a back-bench AM indicating that these will be implemented ‘soon’ here in Wales. Far be it from me to complain, having called consistently for these to be implemented in recent months, but confusion does appear to be rife within the Welsh Government on this – with a Government spokesperson having said earlier this week that they were still awaiting a decision on capital funding from the UK Government…
But it also raises a broader point, which I discussed HERE last Thursday about the disclosure of major announcements during recess. This is not the way to run a government, with back-benchers announcing policy whilst giving evidence to a select committee. One can only assume that they were as frustrated by the WG’s slow movement on this as the rest of us?
In my own region, here in South Wales Central, there are a number of potential sites who will face direct competition from the zones set to be established just across the border – in Bristol, the West of England and even Birmingham. Which is why the inaction on the Welsh Government’s part has been so concerning. If we are going to have zones just across the border then we clearly need something similar here in Wales; even if they don’t operate according to an English model.
And the dithering from the Welsh Government on this cannot be put down to a lack of resources either – the Welsh Government has been the beneficiary of a Barnett Consequential following the investment in England of around £10,000,000. It rather begs the question, what have they they waiting for? Is Wales open for business or not?
One thing that is certain, as we seek to address the debt that was bequeathed to us by the Labour Government, is that we have to take decisive action to restore the balance that exists between the number of jobs that reside in both the public and private sectors here in Wales. The public sector plays a vital role in the provision of services – and jobs – however, given that around 70% of Welsh GDP output is from the public sector, there is a clear need to give consideration to creating a more balanced economy.
In the Vale of Glamorgan there isn’t currently a single Welsh Government sponsored body located with 10 or more employees. Despite the fact that they hold a brownfield land bank of over 10 acres which could act as a springboard for a localised recovery. Naturally across Wales there are any number of potential sites that would make a strong case to be considered for Enterprise Zone status, but closer to home – in my own constituency of SWC – there is a persuasive case to be made to look at Barry as a perfect location to forge ahead with a localised recovery.
As I said in a press release on the subject last week, Barry is after all the largest town in Wales and it would offer a large potential workforce with a broad skill base. It is disappointing that after 12 years of devolution it hasn’t received greater recognition from the Welsh Government with the location of some of its many sponsored bodies there (there are none). What’s more, at a value £40,000 an acre in brownfield land that is already owned by the government surely it would make financial sense to show a tangible commitment to the area - particularly given the exceptional value for money to the taxpayer.