Special Council meeting on Health – How about a people’s panel

Tomorrow night the Council is debating the proposed changes to local health services, which most notable include a threat to Calderdale’s A&E department.

The following motion has been submitted by the Labour party

This Council :-

  • Notes that the Strategic Outline Case produced by Calderdale and Huddersfield NHS Trust, Locala Community Partnerships, and South West Yorkshire Partnership NHS Trust, and particularly the ‘preferred option’ identified by CHNT, has generated wide spread public concern and debate about the future of hospital services in Calderdale;
  • Further notes that in November this Council called on all partners “to develop the longer-term strategic means of ensuring continued, safe and appropriate access to 24-hour urgent and emergency care within Calderdale, in full consultation with the public”; and
  • Believes that the preferred option does not guarantee this.

This Council therefore calls on the three provider Trusts to withdraw the proposals set out in the Strategic Outline Case, and in particular the ‘preferred option’, to enable the two local authorities and the two Clinical Commissioning Groups to lead an open consultation about future health and social care provision in Calderdale and Greater Huddersfield.”

Council believes this will be best achieved by the establishment of a health and care commission, to take evidence, lead consultation and produce proposals regarding future health and social care provision across the Calderdale and Greater Huddersfield health and social care economy, and requests Cabinet to take all necessary steps to secure this outcome.

The Liberal Democrat group has discussed this motion and we are agree with most of what has been stated. We are keen to ensure local people and residents have a say in any group established to examine the matter further, and think perhaps a ‘People’s Panel’ rather than a Health and Care commission might be the best way to do that. We feel this model might provide something in addition to the Council’s existing powers that can be exercised through the Health and Well-being board.

We believe there should be clear provision that residents in Calderdale will be able to participate. The campaign against the closure of Lewisham Hospital may provide some inspiration for how this might be best achieved.

We also think it’s important that the opening hours of GPs are looked at along with the future of the Todmorden Health Centre. We hope that this amendment  will strengthen Labour’s motion and the Council will unite in a strong show of opposition to the current proposals put forward.


AMENDMENT TO Council Procedure Rule 14 Motion submitted by Cllr Tim Swift – Item 2 on Council Summons


Delete all after “Greater Huddersfield;” in paragraph (b)

and insert

“(c) this Council believes this will be best achieved by the establishment of a ‘People’s Panel’, to take evidence, lead consultation and produce proposals regarding the future provision of integrated health and social care services across the Calderdale and Greater Huddersfield health and social care economy.  Cabinet is therefore requested to establish such a Panel, the membership of which shall be wide-ranging, and include local people and relevant groups to allow the input of local people’s perspectives on future service provision; and

(d) this Council calls upon the relevant local NHS bodies to provide, as a matter of urgency, this People’s Panel with detailed proposals relating to extended opening hours of GP surgeries, the future development of Todmorden Health Centre, and other proposals resulting from the Strategic Review of the health and social care economy.”

When is CCTV not CCTV

CCTV stands for close-circuit television. It’s the use of cameras to transmit a signal to a specific place, most often to some monitors for surveillance purposes. Given it was reffered to as CCTV most people then would expect it was a closed-circuit television system being discussed in the following Calderdale Council minute

(a) a contract be entered into with Virgin Media Business, as the single supplier for Networks and Associated Services under the Yorkshire and Humber Public Sector Network Framework, to provide a next generation integrated platform for CCTV in Calderdale; and

This isn’t the case –  the cabinet has actually agreed to recommend  the closed-circuit television system is upgraded into a networked system that can be accessed by other ‘authorised’ organisations at a click of a button. Here is what the civil liberties campaign group NO CCTV have to say on this scheme:

“The proposed scheme represents a massive step change in open-street surveillance as the council would no longer be operating closed-circuit cameras but networked digital surveillance cameras connected to the Public Sector Network. Such cameras were described by the Royal Academy of Engineering as “public webcams”. Of course the council will tell us that only authorised persons and organisations will have access to the network of cameras but we know all to well how such lists of authorised bodies can grow.”

I would certainly have much less of a problem if old CCTV cameras were being replaced on a rolling basis with new ones to maintain the current capacity. I do have a lot more of a problem with cabinet presenting this item as  an update of closed-circuit television, when what they are wanting to do is scrap all the CCTV & introduce a system of networked cameras. These “public webcams” will be accessible to other organisations far more readily, and represent a further step towards a surveillance state.

I would much rather the money is spent on other crime prevention methods which have been shown to be more effective. At a time when services are being cut (such as the Pellon Network Centre in Warley ward), spending £668K on upgrading CCTV to networked cameras is the wrong priority.

Super Fast Broadband comes to Fountainhead

Last year I wrote about our campaigning to try and get superfast broadband to Fountainhead village . I was therefore very pleased to receive an email this morning inviting me along to the opening of the first superfast cabinet to be opened with the Super Fast West Yorkshire programme. Campaigning for broadband in the village has paid off, and it is now the very first place to get the upgrade as part of this scheme.

The Super Fast West Yorkshire scheme is funded by the government through the BDUK scheme, with contributions from local authorities and the European Union. 

The cabinet on Coopers Close will be opened at 9.30am on Friday 11th April.



From the archive – We warned about the PFI deal at Calderdale Hospital

The bungled PFI deal at Calderdale Royal Hospital takes public money that could be spent on vital services and hands them to bankers and financial companies.  There is an excellent blog post on the Energy Royd website that details how  a company based in Jersey benefits.  Calderdale Liberal Democrats warned the last Labour government against signing up to this PFI scheme. A Guardian source cites the total repayment of the scheme as £773.2m on a hospital that only cost £64.6m. In addition PFI ties the hospital into mad service charges such as being charged £85 to change a lightbulb etc.

“The capital cost of rebuilding Calderdale Royal Hospital in Yorkshire is £64.6m, the scheme will end up costing Calderdale and Huddersfield NHS Foundation Trust a total of £773.2m.”

Councillor Tim Swift the Labour leader on Calderdale admits “the costs are higher” on this PFI deal, but claims they are manageable. The interest charge on the PFI (nevermind the rip off service charges e.g. £85 to change a lightbulb) equate to apx £10m a year or in other words 4p in every pound the trust spends.To put it into context that’s about as much as it spends on all the other building improvements and ward refurbishments put together. That Labour think these costs are managable shows how little clue they have about getting good value for money for tax payers.

It’s easy for Labour to try and blame ‘the cuts’ for the problems facing the local NHS, but as is the story with our national economy it appears others are being left to pick up the debt they left behind. PFI deals like this are the wonga loans of public finance. They were agreed to keep public spending of the Blair/Brown government off the books. That so much money has been handed to bankers and fiance companies really is Calderdale’s biggest ever scandal. Here are a couple of scanned in images from the campaign we ran against this PFI deal circa 2000-2. If Labour had listened to us then, we wouldn’t have been in this mess.



Calderdale Lib Dems campaigned against Labour's bungled PFI deal at Calderdale Royal Hospital

Calderdale Lib Dems campaigned against Labour’s bungled PFI deal at Calderdale Royal Hospital


Tackling eyesores and dangerous buildings

Councillor Evans & I were out around Fountainhead village this weekend. One of the problems affecting local residents is this derelict warehouse that has been left to rot on a site next to the Maltings. The building is totally insecure and anybody can just walk up to it. There isn’t even a fence or a sign warning people to keep off.

Residents say there are teenagers hanging out on the site and getting up to no good. This is evidenced by broken beer bottles, and the burnt out remains of fires. The firebrigade and police have had to attend this site in the recent past.

Dangerous buildings are the responsibility of the building owner but the Council can, under Section 77 and 78 of the Building Act 1984, take action in certain circumstances. We have asked officers to look into this urgently so something can be done before someone gets hurt.

Picture of derelict building

Dangerous buildings and eyesores need cleaning up



Campaign to save Calderdale A&E

We now have a new website as part of our bit in the cross-party campaign that is developing to save the local A&E department at Calderdale Royal. It’s very easy in situations like this for politicans to use the situation as an opportunity to point score off each other. There are those who try and blame the government, and there are a host of arguments and counter arguments about whether NHS spending has actually been ring-fenced or whether it is being cut. There are also those who try and blame the disastrous PFI deal that Calderdale Royal Hospital is lumbered with.

For me what is more important is how we can find a workable solution to the problem we find ourselves in. The Keogh report covers issues around A&E, with the suggestion of more specialised centres. However in Calderdale we find ourselves lumbered with some challenging geography and transport routes. Journey times to other A&E departments in Blackburn of Huddersfield are just too long to be considered safe.

It maybe that for certain conditions it is actually better to spend longer in the ambulance if it means you get to the right specialist centre. It seems though you would still need some decent A&E provision in Calderdale for all the other cases. There are also questions about what happens to people in places like Todmorden which are already a long way from the Hospital. Whether there is potential to use the health centre building there for better use remains to be seen.

All of the local Liberal Democrats I have spoken to are opposed to this move, we want to work collaboratively. with other parties and non-partisan single issue campaigns on retaining our NHS.



Growing the local economy and boosting exports

We need to grow the local economy here in Calderdale. Unemployment is now lower than when Labour left office in 2010, the JSA count (as of January 2014) of 5,288 means 4% of people on claiming the benefit. This is still 1% higher than the national average, and within Calderdale’s average of 4% there are large discrepancies between wards. Last week I was knocking on doors and speaking to residents in my ward, the gentleman in question got laid off from his work and is struggling to care for his parents whilst attempting to search for new jobs online (without a computer).

One way in which we are trying to help people like this is by boosting our exports. Our economy has for a long time run a trade deficit, which essentially means we spend more on importing goods then we make from exporting them. If we in Calderdale could sell more of our produce, things we manufacture, creative and service skills to the rest of the world then we would open up new markets and increase the growth of local firms. This in turn would lead to the creation of more jobs, a rise in the demand for Labour and wages and help the residents I represent find work.

That’s why one of our proposed amendments to Labour’s budget seeks to do just that. We are proposing that the Council employs an expert to offer advice and support to local businesses seeking to  expand into new markets and boost their exports. You can read further details on all our other budget proposal on our website. 


Labour choose to keep taxes low and impose extra cuts.

I’m in favor of a Calderdale Council’s tax freeze in this year’s budget. The coalition’s offer to match the equivalent of a 1% rise in Council tax has helped make that possible.  It does mean though there is around £700,000 less in the proposed budget than there would have been with a 1.99% rise.  The  consequences of this Council tax freeze are that more things will need to be cut to balance the books.

It does seem odd then that Labour would rather freeze Council tax and make more cuts.  Why don’t they do what the Greens are doing in Brighton and go for a referendum on a higher rise. Although I disagree with the Green seeking to raise Council Tax by that much, I do admire the fact they are convicted enough of their principles to take the issue to the public. In comparison why are Labour so scared about having that public debate, and seeking to raise taxes? Surely that would be a chance to locally end the ‘austerity’ they claim to campaign against. The money raised could help reduce the Council Tax benefit reductions or provide extra help to people they say are affected by the bedroom tax.

I don’t know of a single Labour group in the Country that is prepared to make the case for higher taxation and less cuts. I guess the reason being  Council tax rises are political unpopular. The Labour party appears to have calculated it is better to  try and keep Council tax low to avoid accusations Councils they control are adding to the cost of living, than do what they promise they will do to their supporters.  I can understand the political calculation, but the hypocrisy of a party that claims it will oppose cuts imposing extra cuts to keep tax low seems immense. I’m surprised the socialists in the local Labour group are putting up with this low tax, low spend their leadership is adopting.

Calderdale Council’s budget

The local press are now reporting on the amendments both the Liberal Democrats and Conservatives will be putting forward at Calderdale Council’s budget meeting. The details of these amendments will be published shortly. There is quite a lot of political spin around such things, so I thought it would be helpful to cut to the chase a bit.

Firstly all three parties agree on most of what Calderdale’s budget should be. All three parties agree there should be a Council tax free for instance, and the variation in budgets that departments have had in previous years are not radically different.

Secondly all the parties on Calderdale have some ideas I would support. Labour want to include the living wage, the Conservatives are very keen to reduce parking charges, and we Lib Dems want to do more to boost business exports, tackle dog fouling and give ward forums their own budgets.

Thirdly there isn’t a ‘coalition’ between the Liberal Democrats and the Conservatives. Labour made the choice to formulate their proposals on a unilateral basis. This differs from last year when cross-party groups in each of the directorates drew up proposals together. When presented with Labour’s proposals (and not having been invited to help formulate them) both parties had weeks in which to asses the plans and draw up their own proposals.

What followed was a series of meetings, debate and discussion about what proposals each party wanted to bring and what we couldn’t support. There were some Conservatives ideas we couldn’t support, and visa-versa.  The changes don’t remove all of Labour’s budget, they are an amendment that changes some things like the unpopular parking charges but keeps in others such as the living wage.

So what we have now is a series of a amendments that if passed will contain the best of what Labour, the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats have to offer.  It doesn’t make for an exciting story but it’s a reasonable representation of resident’s views on decision making on a Council where no one party has overall control.

It’s surprising given Labour don’t have  a majority to pass their budget that they didn’t adopt a more open and consensual approach from the outset.  It was clear then they terminated the Lib Dem/Labour coalition that they wanted more control for themselves, but if they had negotiated  bit more then they probably could have got more of their proposals into the final budget. It also would have meant that a cross-party budget could have gone out for public consultation through the Council’s official communication channels. That would have been fitting for a Council with no overall control, in which the people have Calderdale have stated they want all parties to work together.


Giving residents of Calderdale a real say, giving ward forums community budgets

We have been working on a cross-party basis to come up with a series of amendments to Labour’s budget proposals for Calderdale Council. One of the proposals that i’m really pleased to see being put forward is a proposal that each of the ward forum in Calderdale each be given their own budget of £5,000 so that they can get on with tackling local issues as well as talking about them.

This liberal proposal is about devolving power down to local people who can use democratic means to determine how it is best spent. Although the sum of £5,000 is quite modest it can be put to use supporting local parks, community groups or projects that residents will be free to establish themselves. It is my hope this will help further boost community involvement in Calderdale and help improve our neighborhoods.

I know in Warley ward there are lots of projects such as the Friends of West View Park, the Pellon Network Centre, the residents associations, football clubs etc that could benefit from some of this spending. I envisage that such groups could fill in a simple application to the ward forum who could vote on whether to give them the money or not. Alternatively a system similar to those seen in supermarkets could be used where people could vote with tokens at ward forums as to how the money is to be split up.

One added benefit is that it might encourage more people to come along and participate in these meetings if they actually have a bit of money with which to do things and take action.