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Archive for the ‘Local government’ Category

Monday
Jun 11,2012

Michael Gove is to announce a new primary school curriculum.

Apparently, this will involve five-year-olds being required to learn poetry by heart and recite it aloud.  According to the Telegraph:

“Education Secretary Michael Gove will promise a new focus on the traditional virtues of spelling and grammar when he sets out his plans for the teaching of English in primary schools later this week.

At the same time, Mr Gove will put forward proposals to make learning a foreign language compulsory for pupils from the age of seven.

Under his plans, primary schools could offer lessons in Mandarin, Latin and Greek as well as French, German and Spanish from September 2014.

The Education Secretary is said to be determined to make the teaching of English at primary school ”far more rigorous” than it is at present.  …

It will also emphasise the importance of grammar in mastering the language, setting out exactly what children should be expected to be taught in each year of their primary schooling as well as lists of words they should be able to spell.”

Whilst I am not convinced about the value of reciting poetry, nor about learning Latin and (ancient) Greek, I do think that there is much to be said for instilling the basics of language in all primary age children.

There will also be a commitment to making sure pupils have some basic skills in maths and science:

“Pupils will be expected to memorise their tables up to 12 times 12 by age nine, and be able to multiply and divide fractions by the end of primary school under a major shake-up of the national curriculum.

Using decimals and basic arithmetic are also set to be a main focus of maths lessons in the future, a move which ministers said will help to raise standards in England’s schools.

In science, primary school children will be taught about key concepts such as static electricity, the solar system and how to name and classify objects in biology.”

That too is welcome.  But does it go far enough?

Earlier this year, John Naughton argued in the Guardian that:

“Starting in primary school, children from all backgrounds and every part of the UK should have the opportunity to: learn some of the key ideas of computer science; understand computational thinking; learn to program; and have the opportunity to progress to the next level of excellence in these activities.  …

We need to face up to a painful fact. It is that almost everything we have done over the last two decades in the area of ICT education in British schools has been misguided and largely futile. Instead of educating children about the most revolutionary technology of their young lifetimes, we have focused on training them to use obsolescent software products”

There are developments like Raspberry Pi that are intended to provide a cheap and accessible platform for young children to learn simple programming.
The hope is that Gove will recognise that revitalising the primary school curriculum is about equipping today’s under-11s not with the skills their grandparents and great-grandparents may have learned, but the skills that they will need to grow up in the 2020s and 2030s.  And that those skills can be the basis for the UK’s future economic growth.
Poetry has its place, but programming is the future.
Saturday
May 19,2012

David Cameron’s flagship policy of having elected Police and Crime Commissioners is in danger of unravelling.  Despite the Tory claims that the elections would deliver high profile “serious” figures to hold local police chiefs to account, this now looks as though this is not going to happen – at least as far as the Conservatives themselves are concerned.

The latest news is that Colonel Tim Collins has dropped out of the selection process to be the Conservative candidate to be the Kent PCC – apparently he was too busy to attend the selection meetings (which does raise the question as to whether he would ever have been able to fulfil the role even on the part-time basis on which he was offering himself).

And, if you look at the latest lists of runners and riders compiled by the Police Foundation, the Tory Party now has no significant high-profile candidates publicly in the running for selection.

By contrast, the Labour Party has already selected a number of impressive candidates and there are a number of well-known names in the frame for the remaining selections, particularly those which the Party is likely to win. (The LibDems, of course, have run away from the whole process and may not run candidates at all.)

So where does this leave the elections in November?  The turnout will undoubtedly be low.  The date chosen has only half the daylight hours of a more traditional May polling day and the weather may be unpleasant. The Government has vetoed a free postal distribution to candidates, so the elections will not be well-publicised.  And with the rejection of the other Conservative flagship policy of elected Mayors in all but one of the major cities that held referenda there will only be the Bristol Mayoral election on the same day to boost the turnout.

We can now expect the Tories to downplay the whole process and I suspect there will be a number of those in the Parliamentary Conservative Party scratching their heads to remember why they wanted to make these changes in the first place.

Wednesday
May 16,2012

My attention has been drawn to an attempt to silence a children’s play area by a former Concorde pilot – and his complaint is that it is too noisy (which is what they used to say about the planes he used to fly).

Another resident has complained that the children’s mothers “were really fat”, worse still they were “from Bracknell” and can’t control their children.

As the MailOnline report puts it:

“As a former chief pilot of Concorde, Roger Price knows a thing or two about deafening people.  His supersonic airliner happily hit an ear-splitting 110 decibels on take-off and would often bring conversation to a standstill as it thundered overhead.

But the 67-year-old’s tolerance levels are clearly set a little lower when he’s in his own back yard.   With rich irony, he is trying to close down a local playground because the noise from excited children is too loud. …

The former pilot claims the play area – built around 20 yards from his detached house in Ascot, Berkshire – is ‘severely disrupting’ his life.

He and his wife, Dr Catherine Bentley-Thomas, 51, are fighting a private prosecution to try to force Winkfield Parish Council to shut it.

The local council spent £150,000 adding play equipment to the village recreation field in May last year, but Mr Price said the park was attracting children from outside the area who are too loud.”

According to Dr Bentley-Thomas:

“the sound of just one grandfather pushing a child on the swings had been enough to disturb her.”

The Mail also reports that:

“The residents were accused by  barrister for the council Katie Helmore of not wanting ‘children from less affluent areas infiltrating their community’.

She pointed to complaints from the residents which included that the park was ‘full of really fat women from Bracknell’ who could not control their children.”

Sorry to disillusion these killjoy residents: if you live just by a park you are likely to hear other people and their children enjoying themselves.

Perhaps they should get over it.  After all, it could be a lot worse.

Monday
Apr 2,2012

Youth knife crime has gone up in London by 23% in the last four years – with more than five and a half  thousand young victims in the last year and at the same time police numbers are being cut. Of course, four years ago a promise to get to grips with knife and serious youth crime was central to the election manifesto of Mayoral candidate, Boris Johnson.  The record of his four years as Mayor, however, demonstrate the shallowness of that promise and his strategy over that period has been described as “directionless” and “a shambles” by one of the experts brought in to advise on it.

It is not surprising therefore that Richard Taylor, the father of Damilola stabbed to death in Peckham twelve years ago should be so disappointed, saying earlier today:

“Knife crime is still a huge issue for London. The problem is not going. It is still there. Something must be done. … As someone who has been through it this makes me so disappointed. More and more families are suffering as a result of the negligence of the authorities. There has been a failure to address the problem properly.”

He was hopeful that the plans announced by Ken Livingstone would help with the problem, saying:

“Ken has been able to see the weaknesses of the present Mayor so he should be able to capitalise and do something about this. …  It has to be dealt with once and for all. It has to be handled with an iron fist.”

Ken Livingstone’s proposals include a plan for every one of London’s 432 state funded secondary schools to be assigned a dedicated police officer committed to tackling knife crime by providing better intelligence, increasing detection levels and building better relationships between young people and the police.

Ken Livingstone has also announced plans to back London Citizens’ ‘City Safe Havens’ scheme, which builds the power of local communities to tackle crime and the fear of crime.  The scheme works with willing local businesses and other organisations that are open to the public to make them ‘safe havens’ offering their premises as a place of safety for people who are in immediate danger.

Labour’s candidate for Mayor has promised to work to ensure that all organisations that support City Safe Havens scheme will be given a service agreement from the Metropolitan Police that would include:

•    A named officer assigned to the premises
•    Regular visits from their Safer Neighbourhood Teams
•    A panic button alarm service for emergencies

And his campaign have issued a fact sheet about Tory Mayor’s lies on knife crime.

 

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Tuesday
Mar 20,2012

My webmaster, the excellent Jon Worth has posted on the row that has developed about Boris Johnson usurping the Mayor of London Twitter account for his political campaign.

And as usual he talks a lot of good sense:

“The issue here essentially boils down to your answer to one question: is there any longer any point in insisting on the separation of party political and governmental (i.e. supposedly impartial) communications?

If your answer is that there is still a need for a separation, then Boris is clearly in breach of the rules. The Twitter account in question was established after the 2008 elections, staff time from officials at the GLA was used to maintain it, and – prior to the username change – the account was prominently displayed on the GLA website, a site maintained by the administration that is supposedly above party politics.”

He even offers a solution:

“It would actually not be hard to separate the party political and administrative comms for someone in Boris’s position. A party political, personal Twitter account could be maintained by the politician and his political staff (even if these are taxpayer funded – i.e. SpAds and equivalents – and you could even make the case for there being more of them), and linked to the politician’s political website. A further administrative account (@LondonGov or something like that in this case) could then be used for the governmental comms. If the political account chooses to RT something from the governmental account, so be it, but the administrative account would not RT the political account. When the politician leaves office, his/her followers stay with him/her, while the governmental followers transfer to the next administration. Everyone would know where they stand. Too much to ask?

As for the Boris Johnson case: the account should be returned to the GLA and should not be used by anyone during the election campaign as resources from the impartial administration have clearly been used in its creation, production of content, and increasing its reach, and the two account solution put in place thereafter (of course applying to @ken4london and not Boris!)”

The episode, of course, has displayed an arrogance and a belief that rules are for other people – which it could be argued has been something that the present Mayor has displayed though out his life.  Of course, it may not be a personality trait that uniquely applies to Boris Johnson, it may be the case for other Old Etonian Tories ….

 

Sunday
Mar 18,2012

According to Andrew Rawnsley in today’s Observer, David Cameron has vetoed the introduction of a mansion tax so as to try and avert a defeat for Boris Johnson in May’s Mayoral elections in London:

“The Lib Dems are not going to get their mansion tax and probably knew from the start that the Tories were unlikely to be persuadable. George Osborne could see the intellectual case for taxing wealth via property and some Treasury officials were attracted to the simplicity of a tax that would be hard to avoid. The chancellor might have been willing to cut a deal with the Lib Dems, but the prime minister was not. David Cameron feared the reaction of Tory MPs and the Tory core vote, among whom are rather a lot of people living in the size of property that would attract the tax.  …  He also had a rather cruder, short-term electoral consideration that has been surprisingly overlooked in all the debate about the pros and cons of a mansion tax. Many of the homes worth £2 million or more are concentrated in London. There is an election for mayor of the capital coming up very soon. David Cameron did not want to do anything that could be said to jeopardise Boris Johnson’s chances of beating Ken Livingstone. The first thing that a defeated Boris would do would be to try to get back into the Commons, which is the last place that Mr Cameron wants to see his fellow old Etonian. A beaten Boris will be bad enough for the Tories; a martyred Boris able to blame his defeat on the prime minister and the chancellor would be much worse for them. So the mansion tax was blocked.”

 Good to know that personal intra-Party considerations trump everything else.

 

 

Tuesday
Mar 13,2012

Along with peers from all parts of the House of Lords, I have been pursuing concerns about the loophole that the Government was creating in the Protection of Freedoms Bill that would have meant that those volunteering to work with children did not have to be subject to Criminal Records Bureau checks or checked against the lists of those barred from working with children provided their activities were subject to “day to day supervision”.

These issues were debated again in the House of Lords late yesterday afternoon.  In the end, the issues boiled down to whether an organisation with volunteers working with children could have an “enhanced” Criminal Records Bureau check on such volunteers and whether that check would include information as to whether that individual had been barred from working with children.

The legislation as originally envisaged would not automatically have given organisations the right to have enhanced CRB checks on volunteers.  In essence, the Government have now conceded that right.

They resisted, however, the suggestion that the check should reveal whether or not an individual had previously been barred from working with children – even those 20% of those barred do not have a criminal conviction that would show up on a CRB check.

In the end, the Minister offered a compromise: the “enhanced” check would not disclose whether an individual had been barred but the information that had led to a decision to bar an individual would be made available to the police and they would have discretion as to whether to pass it on as part of the enhanced checking process.

Essentially this ought then to mean that any relevant information could be obtained by an organisation about a volunteer, but it seems a very convoluted way round of doing it.  It would surely be much simpler to say whether that individual had or had not been barred.  It also places the onus and the discretion on the police to pass on the information – so any failure to do so will no doubt lead to criticism of the police service concerned.

For those who really want the details the debate is here and here.

Tuesday
Mar 13,2012

An exchange in the House of Lords this afternoon demonstrated that following the election of Police and Crime Commissioners public police accountability is to be done on the cheap.

Baroness Ruth Henig asked how much money was to be made available for Police and Crime Panels (these are the new bodies set up under the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Act to hold Police and Crime Commissioners to account and which will in effect be the only public forum in which policing decisions can be questioned).  The answer was £53,300 per panel.

When I pointed out that this would be insufficient to employ more than one or two people to support busy local councillors fulfil their scrutiny role, I was told that perhaps I didn’t understand how local authorities work.  This produced loud guffaws – not recorded in Hansard – as colleagues around the House seemed to think that my twenty-six years of experience in elected local and regional government might be rather more extensive than that of the Minister.

The full exchanges were as follows:

 

Police and Crime Panels

Question

2.44 pm

Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government how much money they will make available to each police and crime panel to cover start-up and first-year running costs.

The Minister of State, Home Office (Lord Henley):My Lords, we are committed to funding police and crime panels to do the job set out for them in the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Act. We will be providing annual funding of £53,300 per panel as well as an additional £920 per panel member per annum for expenses.

Baroness Henig:I thank the Minister very much for his response. One of the few things we all agreed on when the police and social responsibility Bill was before the House was the need for these panels to be strong and to operate as effectively as possible under the new governance arrangements for the policing landscape. Does the Minister not agree that these panels will want to meet regularly, probably at least once every other month; that they will have extensive legal and financial needs; that they will need good financial and legal advice; that they will certainly have extensive training requirements in the first year to enable them to operate effectively and cohesively; and that, therefore, the sums he mentioned are totally inadequate to get these panels operating as we would like in the first year?

Lord Henley:My Lords, I do not agree with the noble Baroness at all. As the Bill went through, we made the function of the panels quite clear: it should be that of a light-touch approach. We then announced how much money would be available for them, which was £38,300 per year each. We have reviewed that figure in the light of various amendments made to the Bill, particularly some that originated this House. The figure, as I have just announced, has been increased to £53,300. We think that that is enough for the panels to do their job. The noble Baroness ought to remember that these panels are not replacing police authorities; their job is to review the actions of police and crime commissioners.

Lord Imbert:In the light of those who have said that they will now put themselves forward as police and crime commissioners, are the Minister and the Government content that they will not bring party politics to bear on policing operational decisions?

Lord Henley:My Lords, I am sure that politics will not come into this, but there will be some people who will stand under party colours. However, that does not mean they will necessarily bring politics into this matter. The noble Lord is going slightly wide of the Question, which is about the panels. The important point is to differentiate the job of the police and crime panels from that of the police and crime commissioner.

Baroness Hamwee:My Lords, even with a light touch, the panels will have to get to grips with a lot of paperwork and information, and undertake a lot of discussion in order to carry out their job of scrutiny properly. If the amount that is to be provided is insufficient, will members be expected to look to their own stretched local authorities for professional and technical back-up?

Lord Henley:My Lords, as I said in answer to the first supplementary question, we have increased by some 40 per cent the amount available to the panels in the light of discussions and thoughts we have had following the passage of the Bill. We believe that it will be sufficient. If individual local authorities wish to spend more, it will be for those authorities to make that decision themselves.

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath:My Lords, the noble Lord will be aware that the police and crime panels are the only check and balance on the potential politicisation of our police forces through elected police commissioners. This is not wide of the Question. Will he respond to reports that Mr Kit Malthouse sought to interfere in the Metropolitan Police’s actions in investigating phone hacking? That is but one example of the risk to this new system, in which the police and crime panels are the only defence but the Government are not going to fund them properly.

Lord Henley:My Lords, I have made it quite clear that we are going to fund the panels properly. I am not going to respond to the specific allegation made by the noble Lord, but if necessary—if I think it appropriate—I will write to him. What I am making clear is that we think we are providing appropriate funding for the panels to do the job that was set out in the police Bill last year. We think that they can do that because their job is to look at what the PCCs are doing.

Lord Harris of Haringey:My Lords, the experience in London is that so far the only information to have emerged from the Mayor’s Office for Policing and Crime, which is a surrogate police and crime commissioner, is a series of listed decisions on the website. How on earth is a police and crime panel outside London going to get to grips with the detail underlying that and the issues determined by the police and crime commissioner, with money that is insufficient to employ more than one or two people in support of busy local authority councillors who will have many other roles in addition to that on the panel?

Lord Henley:My Lords, I think that the noble Lord misunderstands—dare I say it?—how local authorities work. Obviously, the funding will be available to provide for some staffing to assist that panel, but within that local authority there will be other officers doing other jobs who will also be able to assist in that role. That does not require the extra funding that he described. However much money the Government offered, no doubt he and others would say that it was inadequate. We made an announcement on how much it would be. Having reviewed it, we have since increased it. We think that it will be sufficient.

Thursday
Mar 8,2012

LibDem discipline in the House of Lords is pretty monolithic – at least as far as the divisions on the Health and Social Care Bill are concerned.

I reported earlier in the week that in Tuesday’s five votes on amendments to the Health and Social Care Bill LibDem peers had voted en masse against every single one.

Today they were at it again.

The first vote was on a Labour proposal which would have removed the arrangements enabling NHS Foundation Trusts to earn up to 49% of their income from private patients.  This was defeated by a majority of 58 with 53 LibDems voting against the amendment.

The second vote was on making HealthWatch England a genuinely independent body.  This was voted down by a majority of 24 with 44 LibDems voting against the amendment.

The third vote was on Government amendments removing statutory status and governance requirements from local HealthWatch organisations.  The Government pushed through their amendments with a majority of 77 with 40 LibDems supporting the Government line.

The fourth vote was on a Labour amendment which would have required clinical commissioning groups to get approval from local Health and Wellbeing Boards to their commissioning plan (i.e. to introduce some democratic accountability).  This was defeated by a majority of 87 with 34 LibDems voting against the amendment.

In none of the four divisions did a single LibDem peer defy their Party whip and vote the other way.

Thursday
Mar 8,2012

Late this afternoon the Government finally got their way in the House of Lords and pushed through a group of fifty amendments that transform their proposals on how local HealthWatch organisations (the structures being created under the Health and Social Care Bill to represent the interests of patients in local communities) should operate.  The amendments, produced without consultation and with little warning, remove the statutory status of local HealthWatch organisations, remove the schedule to the Bill that would have specified their governance and how they should be structured, and pave the way for the privatisation and fragmentation of the functions of local HealthWatch.

The amendments were approved by 168 to 91 – a Government majority of 77 (40 LibDems voted for the Government amendments with none against).

For the really, really, keen here is what I said in opposing the amendments:

“My Lords, this is a complicated group of amendments. There are, I think, 50 government amendments in this group that completely change the direction of this part of the Bill. Of course, we do not have the benefit of a Committee consideration of these changes, which is unfortunate, given the nature of the changes that are envisaged.

In fact, what we are being confronted with is an almost extraordinary volte-face by the Government about how local healthwatch organisations are going to operate and proceed. As it stood, before these amendments, the Bill provided local healthwatch with a very clear structure and very clear governance. It defined membership and it defined their role. As such, the arrangements were better than LINks, better than PPI forums and, in one or two respects, better than community health councils. It was a very clear statement. There remained the problem that local healthwatches were going to be the creatures of local government without the benefit of ring-fenced money and with the potential issues around conflicts of interest concerning social care. I am reminded that on 15 October 2007, the noble Earl, Lord Howe, clearly took the view that it was inappropriate for a local authority to be host to a LINk. Presumably, the same arguments that influenced his thinking then apply on this occasion.

We have been offered guidance on conflicts but, again, it is not clear how this will work, which is something that we could have pursued perhaps in detail in Committee. The amendment refers to having regard to the guidance on conflicts, which I suspect will not necessarily be strong enough for the sorts of conflicts of interest that potentially could arise. We also have the enormous concession, to which I referred earlier, of Amendment 226ZG, which enables HealthWatch England to write a letter if it feels that something has gone wrong.

That is where we were but now the Government, without explanation or consultation, have decided that local healthwatches will no longer be statutory bodies. We are told that that is all in the name of the need for flexibility. The noble Baroness has mentioned repeatedly the briefing which took place yesterday evening, to which, incidentally, I was not invited. Even had I been, I would not have been able to attend because the meeting clashed with the regular meeting of Labour Peers, which one would think that the Government would wish to avoid. At that meeting various papers were tabled which referred to the importance of flexibility but we are not clear as to what that flexibility will deliver.

In moving the amendment the noble Baroness talked about the Government’s proposals in the Bill as creating a series of “unaccountable quangos”. I recall previous briefings which I attended with Ministers and the Bill team when it was explained that there would be guidance about how the membership of local healthwatch was going to be derived and to demonstrate that these were going to be accountable bodies and not unaccountable quangos. Somewhere along the line, in the past few weeks, there has been this amazing change of attitude, which does not seem to follow the benefit of any real explanation or consultation with those who might take an interest in it.

That underpins the amendments spoken to by the noble Baronesses, Lady Cumberlege and Lady Jolly. The noble Baroness, Lady Cumberlege, highlighted the difficulty that would arise between members and staff. The noble Baroness, Lady Jolly, talked about the importance of lay leadership. In terms of the changes, the Government are going to make it more difficult for there to be lay leadership and the role of members versus staff will be blurred still further. Indeed, the staff will be the dominant influence.

This is not a matter on which there has been consultation. I have received a note from the National Association of LINks Members, which states:

“Ministers say that they are ‘not convinced’ that LHW needs to be a stand-alone, statutory body corporate. It is not ministers who will be relying on LHW to get them a fair shake but the old, sick, vulnerable, frightened and marginalised and these, along with the rest of the patients and the public, are the ones who need to be ‘convinced’ that we have a model that will work”.

It says that it is not convinced. It points out that local healthwatch should,

“have a standard ‘platform’ of presence everywhere in England, not merely through logos, straplines and brands”—

which the Government’s amendments will make happen—

“but through a locally elected membership, a single ‘address’ and identifiable staff that it has appointed”.

It says that only:

“Statutory, body corporate status would deliver this”.

It continues:

“Government says it does not want a top-down model but it is making top-down decisions, and these fly in the face of all the evidence of the past three and a half years of LINks, all the advice of all the LINks’ members of the government’s own HealthWatch Advisory Board, of the National Association of LINks Members, all the advice of many, many LINks all over England. ‘Being heard’ has simply vanished from the national scene. The government pontificates on what it does not practise. It legislates but it does not listen”.

It suggests, although I could not possibly automatically agree, that:

“What the Government actually fears is 152 statutory LHWs, with genuine independence, with real clout and public buy-in, a separate identity, and powerful and committed membership”.

If that is the concern, where do we go from here? I am taken with the sage advice your Lordships received from the noble Earl, Lord Howe, when we debated the creation of LINks, the slightly ill-fated proposal by the previous Labour Government. The noble Earl, in his typically courteous but forceful way, said then—given these government amendments, you can simply substitute HealthWatch for LINks:

“We have come to a group of amendments most of which in their different ways relate to the same problem. I use the word ‘problem’ as the most neutral term I can readily think of for what many of us regard as a most serious and regrettable weakness in this part of the Bill; namely, the absence of even the slightest hint of a statutory identity for LINks. There is a complete lack of any descriptive reference to what a LINk might look like and practically no definition of a LINk”.

That was the noble Earl, Lord Howe, talking about the creation of LINks. Yet today he has brought forward amendments—admittedly he has delegated this to the noble Baroness, Lady Northover, who is acting as his mouthpiece on this occasion—that will do precisely what he complained that the previous Government did.

Of course he said much more than that. I will not burden the House by repeating all the remarks he made in October 2007, but if we substitute HealthWatch for LINks every time it appears, we will get the flavour. He went on to say:

“As the Bill stands there are no provisions for LINks to have any form of governance arrangements; it is left completely open as to how a LINk would be able to make decisions or authorise people to act on its behalf. This is a major issue because without some form of governance you cannot have accountability. If there are no people authorised to act on its behalf, a LINk cannot be accountable”.—[Official Report, 15/10/07; col. 567.]

He later said:

“The key issues around governance are really three: how decisions are to be made; how activities are to be undertaken; and, who is to do these things? Without those minimum requirements we would be left with a situation where someone who has joined a LINk, but who never attended any meetings or received any training or signed any code of conduct”,—[Official Report, 15/10/07; col. 568.]

could proceed in particular ways. So the lack of statutory identity was something that the noble Earl, Lord Howe, told this House was absolutely critical when we debated the creation of LINks. And he was absolutely right. I remember agreeing with him at the time and feeling that my Government had got it wrong. But this is the point. The Government have now brought forward amendments which undo all his fine words at that time and all his attempts to put this right, and that is because statutory status at the local level was what was going to give HealthWatch a cutting edge, an authority in terms of its relationships with other bodies.

The noble Earl also had a few words to say about the underlying argument that this should be delegated down. He said then, and we could say it to him now, that we were told that the Government did not want to be “prescriptive” and that it would be up to each LINk to set itself up in the way it wanted.

In June 2007, he quoted a telling Greek legend. Indeed, he may remember using this example:

“I think it was Proteus who was able to assume any shape or form that he liked. The reason why he did this was in order to avoid foretelling the future. For us debating this part of the Bill, it is almost impossible to foretell the future because neither the governance arrangements of LINks, nor their structures, nor their powers, nor even the precise scope of their activities, are set out here. In a real sense, as with Proteus, we do not know who or what we are dealing with”.

With these amendments before us today, the Government are substituting something else when we would have known what we were dealing with and where there were precise governance arrangements. But they are taking all that away and moving towards something that the noble Earl also, presciently, described in that debate, saying:

“As I understand it—the Minister may correct me—because LINks are not defined they are not classifiable as statutory bodies. We may know a LINk when we see it—although I am not completely sure about that—by virtue of the things that it does … The Bill refers to activities being ‘carried on’”.

I look at these amendments and, my goodness, Amendment 236C in the name of the noble Earl talks about,

“activities carried on for the benefits of the community in England”.

Incidentally, how a local organisation is supposed to act in the benefits of “the community in England” seems to be a very odd use of words. However, phrases such as “activities carried on” were precisely what he said then was the wrong way of going on.

The noble Earl went on to say in that June 2007 debate:

“In fact, in one way or another, there is quite a lot of carrying on in this part of the Bill. There may be a joke there somewhere but I shall refrain from trying to find it. But that nebulous form of drafting is as far as we get. It will be incumbent on us in Committee”—

we do not have the benefit of being in Committee today—to sort out this unsatisfactory regime. He continued:

“The main problem with the Bill is that because LINks”—

and you could say the same about HealthWatch now—

“have no identity or definition, they can be seen neither as bodies whose independence is guaranteed, nor as bodies which have the power to hold local health and social care commissions to account”.—[Official Report, 20/6/07; cols. 252-3.]

Those were the wise words of the noble Earl, Lord Howe, then, but he is the same noble Earl who is bringing forward amendments that create the same precisely the structure that he said was totally inappropriate then.

Let us look at what the Government are doing and I will be brief. Amendment 231B removes the statutory status. Amendment 231C removes all structure, form and governance from the Bill. Amendment 234A talks about “one set of arrangements”. It implies not just a single arrangement in any local authority area, but a set of arrangements, so it would not necessarily be one contractual arrangement: it would be a set of contractual arrangements. The word “arrangement” is in the plural.

Amendment 235C is the great catchall that tells us it is all going to be all right and that all these bodies are going to be the same in that there will be a licence to use a trademark. I am enormously reassured by that. Amendment 235D provides for subcontractors for the different functions. So what we are envisaging is that a local authority will divide up the functions of HealthWatch organisations and contract each of them to a separate organisation. Does that really make sense? Is that the strong patient voice that we were promised at local level?

In Amendments 238ZM and 238ZN there are specific references to contractors. This is essentially moving from a position where there will be a clear number of local statutory bodies delivering patient representation on behalf of their communities, with members from those communities running those organisations, because that is what the governance arrangements were before. This is essentially privatising that process, albeit by so-called social enterprises. This is privatising consumer representation.

How can contractors be representative? Yes, there is an amendment that says that these contractors will be broadly representative of the local community, but how can an enterprise itself be representative of the local community? I find this concept difficult to understand. Because we are not in Committee, we do not have the opportunity to have it explained to us fully and a chance to probe the Government.

The amendments that we talked about a few minutes ago envisaged that local healthwatch would be able to have local representation on the board of HealthWatch England. How will we have representatives from local healthwatch organisations—the arrangements that will be subcontracted for different functions to social enterprises—how will representatives be produced at the national level for HealthWatch England? Is this going to be board members of a social enterprise, charged with the effective running of that enterprise not the representation of the community? Will it be the staff? That comes back to the point about lay leadership that the noble Baroness, Lady Jolly, raised earlier.

Last night, I got an e-mail from an existing LINk member, with whom I have never previously communicated, saying:

“I’m much involved with my local LINk, which it can be argued, has already been ‘taken over’ by its Host in advance of the Privatisation of the Public’s voice when HealthWatch comes about. Lay ‘Volunteers’ have been demoted from being Members to Participants”—

there is the lay leadership of the noble Baroness, Lady Jolly—

“and our Management Committee has been redesignated as an ‘Advisory Group’”—

again, lay leadership—

“with few if any powers over anything. Expulsions have been initiated against those who don’t toe the new autocratic line—and the local authority just turns a blind eye despite appeals to the Council Leader, CEO and Portfolio holder. What hopes for a voice for the public/patient when Local Healthwatch is in place?”.

I believe that the Minister received a letter from another member of a local LINk who talks about his dedicated service. He lists at some length all the different bodies that he has sat on representing the public, then says that,

“My most precious resource—the time I have given—has, at a stroke, been set to nought”.

There is no local lay leadership in these arrangements. That is why these amendments are so sad.

We have to ask why the Government are doing this. Is it because some unit in the Cabinet Office has suddenly discovered this bit of the Health and Social Care Bill and said, “Oh, they have missed something out about the opportunity to introduce competition so let us put it in this bit of the Bill”? Or perhaps it is because Government Ministers have suddenly realised that the Bill is rather unpopular. There are some difficulties with it, the public’s perceptions of it are increasingly negative, so having proper patient representation would now be extremely dangerous.”