27 Feb 2019

Hoylake Golf Resort #2

As a postscript to yesterday's post on the Hoylake Golf Resort, here is a telling email I have received from a Labour party member. The knife edge vote on Monday clearly demonstrates that people have the opportunity in May to change the make-up of the council which would hopefully kill off this folly.


Dear Councillors

I find it very disappointing and telling that the only responses to my email came from Conservative and Green Councillors. They seem to be the groups listening to public opinion. 

As a Labour party member I find this doubly disheartening. The development goes against Labour principles and policy and it is shocking to see Labour whipped to support such a destructive vanity project. 


I've spoken to many people on Wirral about this and it wouldn't surprise me if the public makes their feelings known with their vote in the future - and who can blame them...

Wirral council seems to be intent on environmental, community and their party's demise with their commitment to the development. It's my hope you change your stance soon. If not, and it saddens me to say this as a committed Labour supporter, but a Green or even Tory vote will be needed to end this s*** show, and the public are sadly starting to realise this.

26 Feb 2019

Hoylake Golf Resort is a failure of political leadership


Last night there was an extraordinary meeting of full council to debate the Hoylake Golf Resort scheme. 

This has long been a hugely controversial proposal which has sucked time, energy and cash from where its really needed and what Wirral people support which is regenerating East Wirral. How much further advanced would Wirral Waters be if we hadn't wasted so many of our resources on the hugely unpopular scheme.

By a single vote on one motion Labour won the day but they are clearly losing the war. It is a real failure of political leadership that this scheme ever saw the light of day never mind the failure to now pull the plug.

Below is the speech I gave which you can watch here (at 1.14.30) on the council webcast.


Firstly, I’d like to sincerely thank the work of the Stop the Hoylake Golf Resort group. Their detailed and dogged analysis has systematically challenged the economic and environmental credentials of this scheme.

Anyone who watched the recent call-in on the local plan will have heard the cabinet member for housing say more than once “none of us councillors want to build on the green belt”.

The simple truth is by promoting this scheme, and allocating huge amounts of public funds that could have been invested where really needed, the leader and cabinet have persistently demonstrated that they do want to build on the green belt.

And, there can therefore be no surprise if the public simply do not trust this council to protect any of our green belt. 

So instead of rebranding this scheme as the Celtic Manor Resort let’s start calling it what it really is – “The Hoylake executive housing in the greenbelt” scheme.

But the public loss of trust extends way beyond the green belt. This scheme is a poster project for unsustainable development. It assaults every key environmental concern that we face.

Take biodiversity: we know that, on a global scale, humanity has wiped out 60% of mammals, birds, fish and reptiles since 1970. Just last week, the UN warned us that the world's food supply is under 'severe threat' from loss of biodiversity.

In response, Ireland’s President Michael Higgins said “Around the world, the library of life that has evolved over billions of years our biodiversity is being destroyed, poisoned, polluted, invaded, fragmented, plundered, drained and burned at a rate not seen in human history. If we were coal miners wed be up to our waists in dead canaries.

Yet here we have Wirral council still promoting a scheme that will devastate our own biodiversity in a key location for wildlife. Apart from the destruction caused by new roads and buildings, golf courses require, on average, seven times the amount of chemicals as farmland.

Take air quality: we know that Wirral fails to meet World Health Organisation safe limits. Some of our residents are literally chocking to death on the air they breathe. Many others have their health impaired.

Yet here we have plans to spend £17 million of public money to build a new road which we know will increase traffic and further damage our air quality.

And as for climate breakdown it’s almost as if a scheme based on the wealthy flying in to play a round of golf and flying home again has been deliberately designed to wind up the surging ranks of climate campaigners.

When striking school children tell us they feel let down its exactly this kind of outdated, 20th century thinking they are referring to.

On more than one occasion I heard a former cabinet member for the environment refer to the Hoylake Executive Housing Scheme in the green belt as “my kind of socialism”. 

But now we learn that Celtic Manor do not recognise trade unions, use zero hours contracts and do not pay the living wage.

If the cabinet thinks this is an acceptable form of socialism then it is no surprise that they have failed to carry their own party members with them. 

Surely nobody who calls themselves a socialist could vote for this elitist scheme.

11 Dec 2018

Door opens to NHS privatisation in Wirral

Below is the speech I gave at last night's full council meeting on the new Integrated Commissioning Hub for Wirral.  I've written about this previously, particularly in terms of the threat it poses to privatisation of health services locally.


Although some 13 Labour councillors agreed with me that this agreement should be referred back to the relevant cabinet committee and several more abstained, a combination of the remaining Labour councillors with Conservative and Lib Dem support, voted the deal through.


This clearly demonstrates the extent of the split in the Labour group on this issue.


You can watch the debate via the council's web stream. My contribution starts at 1.45.23



Two months ago, along with Cllr Sullivan, I warned council that creating an accountable care organisation in Wirral was opening the door to privatisation of health services in Wirral.

 

If council, as I believe many Labour councillors wanted to, had accepted our advice, we could have paused, avoided the call-in, and spent the past two months addressing the serious flaws in these arrangements.


Instead, as the Lib Dem amendment refers, we are told time is short and we need to press on regardless of the long term implications.


I don't believe that's good enough for the people we represent.


And there was ample evidence in the call-in debate to support my concerns.


In particular, Yvonne Nolan's evidence was extremely clear that:

•    this model paves the way for privatisation

•    joint working between council social care and the NHS was entirely possible without pooled funding

•    that, given these concerns and the financial risks to the council, she would have advised caution


To me, that is a polite way of saying "you are making a big mistake here"


Another witness, Dr Derek Timmins went further saying the signing of this agreement "will lead to increasing privatisation of our nhs and more cuts in services"


This all fits in to the wider agenda of privatisation by stealth – creating single organisations with pooled budgets and weak democratic oversight that are ripe private interests to colonise.


In the face of these warnings, the bland reassurance from the cabinet member that this will not lead to privatisation lacks credibility.


In the circumstances and given the limited powers of council to act tonight, the only responsible course of action is to reject the amendment, refer the entire decision back to the cabinet committee and urge them, in the strongest possible terms, to think again.




5 Dec 2018

Climate Emergency

At this Monday's council meeting I am asking Wirral Council to declare a "climate emergency". Here is a copy of my motion:


CLIMATE EMERGENCY

Council notes the findings of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report ‘Global warming of 1.5°’ published on 8 October 2018, in particular:

that human activities are estimated to have already caused approximately 1.0°C of global warming above pre-industrial levels;

that if we continue at the current rate, we are likely to surpass the Paris Agreement target of 1.5°C as early as 2030;

that, at the current level of commitments, the world is on course for at least 3°C of warming with irreversible and catastrophic consequences for humans and the natural world.

Council believes that:

the impacts of global temperature rise above 1.5°C, are so severe that governments at all levels must work together and make this their top priority.

as well as large-scale improvements in health and wellbeing around the world, bold climate action can deliver economic benefits in terms of new jobs, economic savings and market opportunities.

Therefore, Council requests that the Leader and Cabinet relevant Overview & Scrutiny Committee establish an Overview and Scrutiny Committee working group, with a remit to

(i)   Seek advice from experts to develop a robust carbon budget and set a challenging target date for carbon neutrality in Wirral;

(ii) Consider systematically the climate change impact of each area of the Council’s activities;

(iii) Make recommendations and set an ambitious timescale for reducing these impacts;

(iv) Report to full Council with the actions the Council needs to take to address this emergency.

In addition, Council further requests that the Leader & Cabinet:

-   require all report risk assessments should include Carbon Emission Appraisals, including presenting alternative approaches which reduce emissions wherever possible.

 -  task a director level officer should be tasked with responsibility for reducing as rapidly as possible, the carbon emissions resulting from the Council’s activities.

 - that the leader writes to inform the Prime Minister that Wirral has declared a climate emergency.

11 Nov 2018

NHS privatisation: Letter to the press

Following my recent work in highlighting the threat of creeping privatisation in the NHS and Wirral Council's complicity in this, the following letter has been published in both the Liverpool Echo and the Wirral Globe:


On October 16th, Wirral Council and NHS Wirral agreed to establish an Integrated Commissioning Hub. Wirral's Clinical Commissioning Group will be using it to procure a range of NHS services from April 2019.

This rather mundane sounding agreement has huge implications for health services in Wirral. The background papers confirmed that this agreement "will facilitate the introduction of a wider Accountable Care Organisation across the Wirral." Accountable Care is widely recognised as a means of facilitating privatisation within the NHS.

Currently, in most NHS contracts a needs-based payment is made for each treatment provided to individual patients. But the new contract would pay the provider a fixed lump sum at the start of each year, to cover the costs of a range of treatments for the whole population. This switch from a needs-based payment to a fixed contract is crucial. It means the introduction of rationing for health services. Fixed capital budgets will be allocated which are no longer based on clinical need and must not be overspent.

Despite warnings from myself and others, Labour councillors have chosen to proceed with this agreement. As the campaign group Defend our NHS has said "Members of the DONHS executive are alarmed that Labour councillors have defied their own party policy and voted to open the door even wider to the privatisation of health services in Wirral".

It is clear that the Conservative government is working to privatise by stealth our treasured NHS. It is deeply worrying that Labour councillors in Wirral have helped to facilitate this.

15 Oct 2018

Why is Labour helping to privatise the NHS in Wirral?

update: you can watch my speech via this link starting at 2.37.50

At tonight's full council meeting, a Labour party motion opposes the current closure threat to walk-in health centres across Wirral and explicitly states: “This council is opposed to all forms of privatisation in the NHS”,
 
Tomorrow, October 16th, a meeting of the Joint Strategic Commissioning Board for Wirral will consider a proposal to approve an Integrated Commissioning Hub for Wirral.  This will be opening the door to an accountable care organisation and health privatisation in Wirral.

I've tabled an amendment to Labour's motion asking council to specifically reject plans for an Accountable Care Organisation. These are my reasons why:

I welcome the very clear statement in this motion which states: “This council is opposed to all forms of privatisation in the NHS” and earlier public statements by the Leader of the Council that he opposes the development of an accountable care system in Wirral. Accountable care is widely recognised as a means of facilitating privatisation within the NHS.


Sadly, if the proposals for an Integrated Commissioning Hub for Wirral Council and NHS Wirral in front of tomorrow’s meeting of the Joint Strategic Commissioning Board (agenda item 6) are adopted then this council will in fact be opening the door to an accountable care organisation and health privatisation in Wirral.

There can be no ambiguity about this.  Throughout the associated due diligence report from Price Waterhouse Coopers there is reference to the development of an Accountable Care System and that the Integrated Commissioning Hub is the first step towards this. Crucially, the report concludes by saying:


Significantly, the publication of this all-important due diligence report was repeatedly denied up until a few weeks or so ago. No meaningful and proper public consultation and engagement has taken place. The public has been locked out. This is unacceptable and undemocratic.

If this contract goes ahead, our Clinical Commissioning Group will be using it to procure a range of NHS services from April 2019. 

Currently, in most NHS contracts apart from mental health, a needs-based payment is made for each treatment provided to individual patients. But the new contract would pay the provider a fixed lump sum at the start of each year, to cover the costs of a range of treatments for the whole population.

This switch from a needs-based payment to a fixed contract is crucial. It means the introduction of demand management and rationing for health services. Fixed capital budgets will be allocated which are no longer based on clinical need and must not be overspent.

This is a clear route to new “care models” that are based on the USA’s Medicare/Medicaid system that provide limited health care for people who can’t afford private health insurance.

A new government would be powerless to stop and reverse this because the contracts would be locked in for a continuous period of up to 15 years or more. 

And, we already know how this model operates. In mental health, the introduction of fixed lump sum contracts means that it is now normal for there to be NO hospital beds for acute mental health patients in their own area. They are routinely taken by ambulance across the country to wherever there is a hospital bed. 

This is not a model we should be rolling out across the health service. A model that allows for price competition between providers when bidding for contracts leading inevitably to a reduction in the quality of care and, potentially, a Carillion type collapse.

And, even if an Accountable Care Organisation is initially kept within the public sector it would still decimate the founding principles of the NHS. ACOs represent the breaking up of a single national health service into sub-regional care packages with fixed budgets and rationed services. This means a loss of universalism, comprehensiveness, national terms and conditions and quality standards.

Let me finish by repeating the all-important concluding sentence from PWC’s due diligence report:

The introduction of an integrated commissioner with a single pool of funds will facilitate the introduction of a wider Accountable Care System / Accountable Care Organisation across the Wirral.

There is no legislation in place forcing these changes on Wirral. The changes are entirely voluntary. In fact, if the clear statement in this motion – “This council is opposed to all forms of privatisation in the NHS” means anything then we must say an emphatic and resolute no to Accountable Care in Wirral.

I therefore urge all councillors to support this amendment and send a clear message to the relevant cabinet members that they must not support the proposals for an Integrated Commissioning Hub in Wirral and must not sign this legally binding contract.