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Archive for the ‘Local government’ Category

Saturday
Nov 8,2014

My piece for LabourList is here:

Labour’s NEC has just agreed the timetable for the selection of the Party’s candidate for London Mayor in 2016. The process will kick in within days of the General Election with a candidate selected on the new more open process by the end of July next year. No doubt if Boris Johnson decided to go early (so that he would be “available” to stand for the Tory Leadership in the event of a Cameron defeat), this would trigger a Mayoral by-election on the same day as the General Election and an expedited NEC-led selection would be needed.

So it is worth thinking now about the job of London Mayor and what characteristics an effective Labour candidate should have.

I start with a declaration of bias: London is the greatest city in the world. It is amazing and complex with over eight million residents and rising, 13 million overseas visitors each year and 2.5 million cars. But what makes it different is its diversity, dynamism, tolerance of difference and its vitality of culture.

However, the story of London is also a Tale of Two Cities. It is the most unequal region of the UK with the top 10% richest Londoners being 273 times wealthier than the bottom 10%. 700,000 people in work earn less than the Living Wage and the poverty rate for children in Inner London is 44% higher than any other UK region. And this has a huge impact on health and life chances. For example, men’s life expectancy ranges from 71 years in the Tottenham Green ward in the Borough I used to lead to 88 years in Queen’s Gate ward in Kensington and Chelsea.

London’s next Mayor must have a vision for London that tackles that inequality and fosters sustainable growth that can support the rest of the UK economy. A laissez-faire approach simply will not work.

Muddling and bumbling through, relying on a witticism and a Latin tag will not do as an approach to the issues facing our capital city.

The next Mayor must build consensus that social equity is a necessary component of London’s future economic development and prosperity. This means forging partnership between local government and other parts of the public sector with business and with the community and voluntary sector.

The office of Mayor carries huge democratic authority. She or he has the third largest personal democratic mandate in Europe (only exceeded by the Presidents of France and Portugal). Our next Mayor must use that elected authority to bring people round the table, persuade and cajole them to support that more inclusive vision for London, and use the bully pulpit of elective mandate to deliver over and above the statutory powers of the office.

Governing London is hard work. The job of Mayor is not for the faint-hearted, the tired or the lazy. It is not a job for those who see it as a cushy comfortable coda to a lifetime of public service. It is not a job to be offered by a Party Leader as a consolation prize to a figure disappointed by their prospects of national office.

Nor is the job of Mayor for those whose real focus is on where the role may take them next: the job is too big for the incumbent to spend their time eyeing someone else’s.

Any Mayor has to have a sustained commitment to hard work and tough choices in the pursuit of the sustainable city not just for 2020 and the end of the next Mayoral term. They must recognise and accept that their initiatives may only bear fruit over the next twenty to thirty years but that their vision and commitment is necessary for the future prosperity of the city even if they will not be there to reap the credit.

And London’s next Mayor must have real experience of running something substantial: a government department as a senior minister, a London Borough as a Leader or Mayor, or perhaps a major enterprise as its Chief Executive.

Being a celebrity, a chat show host, or a sofa guest on a televised pundits panel is not enough. London needs a Mayor who is a doer not just a talker.

The Mayor’s task is to deliver a profound contribution to the quality of life of all citizens and to their children’s prospects for prosperity and security. It is not a part-time role.

London’s next Mayor must be someone with vision for the city, who cares about London far more than about him or her self.

London’s next Mayor must be far-sighted with an understanding of the long-term infrastructure requirements that ought to be planned now even if they will not be finally constructed until 2040.

London’s next Mayor must be a consensus-builder, someone who unites rather than divides, someone who understands and wants to work with all the sections of London’s society and economy.

London has twice elected maverick figures and the next Mayor will need to demonstrate that they are more than just Party loyalists, but are individuals who have a track record of challenging the status quo, standing up to the powerful, and challenging national government (even if that national government is led by their own Party).

It is one hell of a person spec for one hell of a job. Fortunately, Labour is blessed with some hugely impressive potential candidates.

Over the next few months, they must articulate their vision and demonstrate what they will do to ensure that London continues to make its contribution to the nation, Europe and the world, but above all does so as a capital city with a human heart that values and nurtures all its citizens, whether they are young or old, rich or poor, black or white, and whatever their background.

Londoners deserve nothing less.

 

Thursday
Dec 5,2013

Earlier today, Peers debated Policing for a Better Britain, the product of two years work by a group chaired by the former Metropolitan Police Commissioner, Lord John Stevens. The report is a Royal Commission in all but name – and was commissioned by Shadow Home Secretary Yvette Cooper, rather than the government. It is the most thorough appraisal of policing for over 50 years, and its detailed recommendations need to be taken seriously if the service is to meet the challenges of today.

The diagnosis is that the police are grappling with deep social transformation, including a global economic downturn, ever-quickening flows of migration, widening inequalities, constitutional uncertainty and the impact of new social media. Overall, crime levels have been declining for the last 15 years (despite some suggestions that violent crime and burglary are increasing again). But there are new types and modes of crime to contend with: e-crime and cyber-enabled crime, the widespread trafficking of people and goods, and also terrorism – both international and domestic. And all at a time when trust in the police is under threat.

We need now to return to the fundamental principles of British policing: the concept that the police are a civilian service operating with the consent of those they serve; that their effectiveness is measured not by the number of arrests but by the absence of crime; and that underlying it all is the idea that they are accountable for the actions they take.

Lord Stevens’ concludes that the police must have a social purpose that combines catching offenders with work to prevent crime and maintain order in our communities; that they should listen to what the public say while meeting the needs of the most vulnerable in society; and above all be rooted in local communities.

Faced with the budgetary cut-backs of the last three years and ministerial insistence that the police’s only objective is to fight crime, the report warns: “there is a danger of the police being forced to retreat to a discredited model of reactive policing.” It also bemoans the steady dismantling by the Coalition of local community policing – built up and supported by the last Labour government. In London alone, for example, 300 sergeants have been lost from Safer Neighbourhood Teams over the past two years.

The sight of beat police, whom the community knows, fosters reassurance, promotes feelings of well-being and security, and builds public trust.  And that itself enables the sort of relationship where people feel confident enough to confide their concerns and pass on the raw material of the intelligence that local police must rely on to do their work.

All of this needs to be coupled with increased professionalism (Stevens suggests the concept of ‘the chartered police officer’) and greater accountability, with a proper independent body to monitor standards and investigate complaints. Locally, there needs to be a much greater role for elected councils in setting priorities. At force-wide level, the report is scathing about the defects in governance resulting from the ill thought out changes that led to the election of Police and Crime Commissioners on a 15% turn-out.

What the Stevens Commission has done is provide a formidable body of evidence to support some coherent reforms to make British policing fit for the 21st Century whilst retaining the core principles that still make British policing the envy of the world. All we need now is a government that is interested in genuine improvements to take this forward, rather than one that takes delight in sniping at Chief Constables and undermining police morale.

 

Monday
Nov 18,2013

For the past six months I have been chairing the Lords’ Select Committee on the Olympic and Paralympic Legacy. And today, after 33 evidence sessions, hearing from 53 witnesses and taking written submissions from 67 organisations and individuals, we have published our report – with 41 recommendations.

So what are our main conclusions?

The Games themselves were an outstanding success, absolutely vindicating the decision by Tony Blair and Ken Livingstone to back London’s bid, as well as exceeding expectations and confounded the sceptics. That success was only delivered through incredible cooperation between the numerous organisations involved, the host Boroughs and virtually every Whitehall department. Since the Games however, the same political impetus and the imperative of a deadline no longer exist. As a result many aspects of the legacy are in danger of faltering and some have fallen by the wayside. There is a lack of ownership and leadership.

That is why we recommend giving a single Cabinet-level Minister overall responsibility for all strands of the legacy. Only someone with senior clout will be able to bang heads together across different departments, including Education with its role in school sport and funding, Health which is supposed to be getting us all more active and healthier, DCMS with its responsibility for the sports governing bodies – plus all the departments that should be working to deliver the economic benefits not only in London but across the UK.

In London itself, the Office of Mayor should be given unambiguous responsibility for holding and taking forward the vision for East London and the developments in the Olympic Park and the surrounding area.

East London has for over a hundred years contained some of the most deprived communities in our country. Too many still live in poor and grossly overcrowded properties or in temporary accommodation. Unemployment rates are among the UK’s worst and the skills gap means that local businesses cannot find the staff they need. Delivering the Olympics brought forward much-needed infrastructure improvements but making sure that all the potential new jobs and new housing are delivered will require laser-like focus and determination from the Mayor.

There is suitable land for housing in East London but it is not being used. One Borough says that the biggest problem is land-banking. In another, Barking and Dagenham, one site, part-owned by the Greater London Authority, has permission for 11,000 dwellings but only 300 have been built. There is much that the Mayor should be doing.

Stratford International has had £1bn of public investment to equip it for high-speed international rail services, but none stop there. It is time that the Transport Department persuaded the operators that at least some of their services should use the facilities, bringing in both travellers and business.

As for the promised “cultural legacy”, the term only appeared twice in more than 500 pages of written evidence and the only tangible thing mentioned by DCMS Secretary Maria Miller was the world tour of the inflatable Stonehenge that she described as “a fantastic way of bringing Britain to life overseas.”

As far as sports participation is concerned, the step-change improvement hoped for did not occur. If anything, the slow steady improvement seen since 2005 has faltered. Facilities at grassroots level need to be improved and we received much evidence telling us that the Coalition’s scrapping of School Sports Partnerships was a big mistake.

Although we hunted for White Elephants among the facilities created for the Games, we didn’t find them. But the unseemly squabbling of West Ham United and Leyton Orient football clubs over the Olympic Stadium was most unedifying. It is important that more effort is made to ensure that this national asset is put to good use with maximum possible community use, including possibly by the club that was unsuccessful in the bid process.

That is the overall lesson of the report: the London Games were a huge success but much more still needs to be done to ensure the nation gets the maximum possible return on its investment.

 

Thursday
Apr 18,2013

A few weeks ago I asked “How often does Boris Johnson speak up for Londoners?”  The answer seemed to be not very much.  I had tabled a question in the House of Lords:

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what representations they have received from the Mayor of London in the last year on (1) health services in London, (2) housing provision in London, and (3) the impact of changes in welfare benefits on the people of London.[HL5797]“

The response I got was as follows:

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Communities and Local Government (Baroness Hanham): The Department of Health has held a number of discussions over the last year with the Greater London Authority, London Councils and the Local Government Association about the London Health Improvement Board. We recognise that there is potential for delivering health improvement services on a city-wide basis in London. The London Health Improvement Board has been meeting since July 2011.

The Localism Act conferred on the Mayor of London responsibility for housing, economic development and Olympic legacy in London, in addition to existing responsibilities over transport, planning and the police. Therefore, the mayor is responsible for housing and regeneration policy in London. The Department for Communities and Local Government has regular conversations with the Mayor of London and the Greater London Authority regarding housing provision in London. Over the last year these conversations have focused on a broad range of issues, such as funding and delivery of affordable housing, increasing investment in the private rented sector, getting surplus public sector land back into use and dealing with homelessness and rough sleeping.”

The answer was – as I pointed out –  notable in what it does not say.

There is no indication that the Mayor had spoken up on behalf of Londoners about the state of London’s NHS and the piecemeal closure of services that is taking place all over the capital.

And there was no mention whatsoever in the answer (despite its specific inclusion in the question) of any representations made by the Mayor on the impact of changes in welfare benefits on the people of London.

So I concluded:

“Boris Johnson has made plenty of public statements about not being nasty to bankers and the iniquities of high tax rates but apparently has little to say about the cuts in welfare and housing benefits that hundreds of thousands of Londoners will face in the next few weeks.”

However, in the interests of fairness, I thought I should seek further clarification in case the omission from the answer was a mistake by civil servants.

After all, this was the Mayor who in October 2010, while he was running for re-election as Mayor, had likened the effects of the housing benefit changes to “Kosovan-style ethnic cleansing“.

I therefore tabled another question in the House of Lords this time more specific that elicited the following response:

Lord Harris of Haringey:

To ask Her Majesty’s Government, further to the Written Answer by Baroness Hanham on 5 March (WA 397-8), what representations they have received from the Mayor of London, separately from the London Assembly, specifically on the subject of the impact of changes to welfare benefits on the people of London.[HL6517]

Lord Freud: We are not aware of any representations received in the past year from the Mayor of London, separately from the London Assembly, on the impact of changes to welfare benefits on the people of London.”

So the Department of Work and Pensions is not aware of ANY representations from the Mayor in the last year.

This demonstrates how little he really cares about what is now happening to many Londoners.

All he was prepared to utter was a single lurid soundbite in one of his rare media interviews. And then nothing.

No attempt to use the formidable statistical and information resources available to him at the Greater London Authority to put the case to his colleagues in Government.  Nothing at all.

Perhaps what it means is that now he has been re-elected he no longer feels the need to represent the interests of Londoners as his focus has moved on to winning over the Conservative MPs he needs for his next objective – to succeed David Cameron as Leader of the Conservative Party.  And not many of those Tory MPs care about hard-pressed Londoners damaged by the Government’ s policies on benefits.

Wednesday
Mar 27,2013

The focus of that Eddie Mair interview was the question of Boris Johnson’s fitness for further office.  There was no real discussion of how well he has actually done in his current job as Mayor of London.

In the earnest spirit of inquiry I recently tabled a question in the House of Lords:

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what representations they have received from the Mayor of London in the last year on (1) health services in London, (2) housing provision in London, and (3) the impact of changes in welfare benefits on the people of London.[HL5797]“

The response I got was as follows:

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Communities and Local Government (Baroness Hanham): The Department of Health has held a number of discussions over the last year with the Greater London Authority, London Councils and the Local Government Association about the London Health Improvement Board. We recognise that there is potential for delivering health improvement services on a city-wide basis in London. The London Health Improvement Board has been meeting since July 2011.

The Localism Act conferred on the Mayor of London responsibility for housing, economic development and Olympic legacy in London, in addition to existing responsibilities over transport, planning and the police. Therefore, the mayor is responsible for housing and regeneration policy in London. The Department for Communities and Local Government has regular conversations with the Mayor of London and the Greater London Authority regarding housing provision in London. Over the last year these conversations have focused on a broad range of issues, such as funding and delivery of affordable housing, increasing investment in the private rented sector, getting surplus public sector land back into use and dealing with homelessness and rough sleeping.”

The answer is notable in what it does not say.

There is no indication that the Mayor has spoken up on behalf of Londoners about the state of London’s NHS and the piecemeal closure of services that is taking place all over the capital.  I doubt whether the remit of the London Health Improvement Board covers the configuration of health services in London and I have asked another question to clarify this.

And there was no mention whatsoever in the answer (despite its specific inclusion in the question) of any representations made by the Mayor on the impact of changes in welfare benefits on the people of London.

Boris Johnson has made plenty of public statements about not being nasty to bankers and the iniquities of high tax rates but apparently has little to say about the cuts in welfare and housing benefits that hundreds of thousands of Londoners will face in the next few weeks.

I wanted to seek further clarification from the Government by asking:

“Further to WA 5797, does the absence to a reference to representations from the Mayor of London in respect of changes in welfare benefits on the people of London mean that there were no such representations”

but have been told that that would be against the rules.

Instead, I have asked again what representations the Government has had from the Mayor specifically on the subject of impact of changes to welfare benefits on the people of London.

I await the answer, but I expect I know it already: Boris Johnson is more concerned about the very wealthy and about big bonus bankers than those who have to rely on what is left of our social security system.

 

Wednesday
Jan 23,2013

There were some exchanges on local government grants in House of Lords Question Time this afternoon.

The Bishop of Liverpool asked the Government “what steps they are taking to ensure that financial settlements for local government funding are fair.”

The subsequent exchanges had the Minister assuring the House that the settlements were in fact fair despite evidence to the contrary:

“The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Communities and Local Government (Baroness Hanham):
My Lords, the Government have proposed a fair settlement for 2013-14 and 2014-15. Each local authority’s baseline funding level and the calculation of its tariff and top-up are based on figures that take account of the different needs of each area. The settlement allows local government to keep nearly £11 billion of business rates and keep the growth on that share of business rates, providing a direct financial incentive for councils to deliver growth.

The Lord Bishop of Liverpool:
My Lords, I thank the Minister for her Answer, and I assure her that my Question arises out of very genuine pastoral concern. Can the Government not think again in the interests of greater fairness and make more allowance for the highest levels of deprivation in both rural and urban areas? For example, in Liverpool there is to be a 52% cut in services over four years, which will directly impact upon services to mentally ill children, vulnerable families and the elderly housebound.

Baroness Hanham:
My Lords, I know that the right reverend Prelate is very involved in the discussions that are taking place about settlements and the various levels of deprivation. I believe he held a conference last week that addressed this important subject.

However, the methodology that has been used and is set out in the formula funding document, which has been out to consultation several times, takes account of deprivation and the high cost of providing services in areas that have high deprivation, where local authorities have a low ability to raise funding. Such authorities will receive more funding than authorities with a low cost of providing services and a high ability to raise funding locally.

Lord McKenzie of Luton:
My Lords, under the local government settlement for the two years ending this March, the Audit Commission reported that in the 20 most deprived areas of the country revenue spending had fallen by 14% and in the 20 least deprived by 4.4%. In the most recent settlement, the 20 most deprived authorities will have their spending power cut by an average of 8% and the least deprived by 0.7%. Can the Minister tell me what definition of fairness justifies this distribution?

Baroness Hanham:
My Lords, the distribution has been carried out, as it always is, against a formula which makes sure that there is fairness of distribution across the piece.”

Hardly convincing, so I tried again:

“Lord Harris of Haringey:
The Minister tells us that she is presiding over this pure system of allocating resources between local authorities which is delivering fairness. Did Ministers change the formula for distribution so as to produce a result whereby, as my noble friend from the Dispatch Box pointed out, the most deprived areas are losing the most?

Baroness Hanham:
My Lords, the formula has not been, as has been suggested, tinkered with; that is how it has come out. It is fair to point out that the local government settlement is not the only funding that local authorities get; there is also the new homes bonus and other contributions that local authorities can have. It is not just the settlement.”

So it wasn’t tinkering, it just happened.

Pull the other one.

Thursday
Jan 17,2013

As Boris Johnson prepares to use the platform of the London Government dinner at the Mansion House tonight to try and upstage David Cameron’s long-awaited speech on Europe tomorrow, unsubstantiated gossip reaches me that the Mayor is moving to reward another of those associated with the Evening Standard’s campaign in 2008 to unseat Ken Livingstone and as a result help him to win the election as London Mayor.

Veronica Wadley (then the Standard’s editor) is now the Mayor’s (paid)appointee as chair of the London Arts Council.

A little bird tells me that now the Mayor is poised to appoint Andrew Gilligan (then the Evening Standard journalist who wrote some of the articles in the Standard most damaging to Ken Livingstone) as his new (paid) advisor on cycling in London.

Interesting, if true…..

I have now had it confirmed.

Thursday
Jan 10,2013

Seventeen years ago, I became Chair of the English National Stadium Trust (now the Wembley National Stadium Trust).  The Trust made the original bid for National Lottery funding to build a new national stadium for football and rugby league and, having successfully made the case for Wembley to continue to be the site for that stadium, secured £120 million towards the rebuilding costs.  One of the conditions of the Lottery grant were that eventually 1% of the turnover of the Stadium should be paid back to the public, who had bought their Lottery tickets to make that grant possible, in the form of grants to community organisations that would support a range of sports activities.

The money was only to start being made available five years after the new Stadium opened (which following a number of delays took place in the spring of 2007) and the first substantive funds were received at the end of 2012.

And this morning I chaired the meeting that decided which organisations should be the beneficiaries of the first £300,000 of grants. 37 organisations will benefit and will be receiving their cheques at a ceremony later this month at Wembley Stadium.  In this initial grant round all of the organisations will be delivering community sports activities in the London Borough of Brent (for those who don’t know their geography Brent is the Borough in which the Stadium is situated).  Later grant rounds will benefit the rest of London and the country as a whole.

It has been a long journey but it is difficult not to be excited about the range of organisations that have been successful.

Thursday
Nov 22,2012

Last night in the House of Lords (in between the debates on the Justice and Security Committee which led to the Government’s proposals on so-called secret courts being savaged) there was a debate on the regulations that set out how the Chair and members of the committee of Healthwatch England are to be appointed as a sub-committee of the Care Quality Commission.

The regulations are controversial because the subservience or apparent subservience of Healthwatch England to the Care Quality Commission undermine the independence of Healthwatch England as the national body representing patients’ interests – particularly as part of its job in the future may be to raise, on behalf of patients, questions about how the Care Quality Commission has carried out its functions.

The Minister’s response was pretty unimpressive – essentially that the initial appointments made to Healthwatch England were so good that there would never be any problems in the future.

You can read the full debate here.

My contribution was as follows:

Lord Harris of Haringey: My Lords, I am pleased to have the opportunity to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Jolly, on this Prayer. She has highlighted the weakness in the Government’s position. I am confident that the people who have set up Healthwatch England are of good will and that they intend and wish it to work; that Anna Bradley will be an excellent person as chair of Healthwatch England; that the outgoing chair of the Care Quality Commission is committed to making it work; and that the chief executive of the Care Quality Commission is committed to making it work. I even believe that Ministers in the Department of Health are committed to making it work.

The problem is that we are provided with a framework of regulation which does not guarantee that in future. One or two appointments down the road, with a new leadership of the Care Quality Commission and, perhaps, with different Ministers at the Department of Health, how will those things be ensured, especially if budgets remain tight and Healthwatch England starts to be effective and makes criticisms which are difficult for Ministers-or, worse still, in this context, for the Care Quality Commission? That is when those problems may arise.

That is why, when the Bill was passing through this House, there was so much concern about the importance of independence for the Healthwatch structure. My concern is that, given that the legislation has passed, this is a wasted opportunity to make it stronger.

One of the lessons that is expected to come from the Mid-Staffs inquiry relates to independence. The report is expected to identify the systemic failure of organisations to focus primarily on the needs of the patients of that hospital. Because each was looking at its own area, nobody was taking the step back to say, “How does this work from the point of view of patients?”. That is where Healthwatch should come in and be influential: to cut through the complicated organisational structures which the Health and Social Care Act has bequeathed to the NHS. That is why the simple issue of how it preserves its independence is so vital.

When the Bill was going through Parliament, the noble Earl held a meeting to discuss how Healthwatch England should work. He made the point that there would be valuable synergies from Healthwatch England being located within the Care Quality Commission. He did not stress, but it was clearly part of the equation, that there would also be some useful cost savings associated with that. The cost savings could be achieved in a whole variety of ways. It would be possible to have an agency agreement whereby some of the back office functions were provided by the Care Quality Commission or any of the plethora of structures that the Health and Social Care Act has bequeathed to the NHS. Similarly, because the duty of co-operation exists, you would hope that those synergies could be activated without the need for the Healthwatch organisation to be subservient to the Care Quality Commission. It would have been possible in these regulations to create a structure which, while preserving the general framework of the Act, would ensure that there was independence.

If we look at the regulations that we have before us, we see a number of flaws. First and foremost, for example, is the size of the Healthwatch England committee. Potentially, this will be a committee of as few as six members. I appreciate that in the initial instance it is larger than that, because people of goodwill are trying to make this structure work. However, in three, four or five years’ time there may not quite be the same atmosphere or there may be a feeling that the wings of Healthwatch England need to be clipped back. In any event, with six to 12 members it is going to be extremely difficult to ensure that there really is the geographical diversity that is necessary; the coverage of all the many major areas of special need that exist as far as health and social care is concerned; and proper recognition of ethnicity and gender within that. Again, the initial membership has provided a reasonable attempt to achieve that diversity, but where is the guarantee of that in the future?

I know there is a feeling that small boards work well. The noble Baroness, Lady Cumberlege, who is not in her place on this occasion, has talked to us glowingly about the value of having small, dynamic boards to run organisations but this is a different sort of organisation. It is supposed to be one that represents the generality of the interests of patients across the whole country and which derives its authority from what is happening in local Healthwatch organisations around the country-the 150-odd local organisations that will exist. It is therefore not appropriate to have a small board in such a case, as it is not the same sort of structure.

Then we have the rather strange arrangements for the appointment process. In the first instance, the chair of Healthwatch England has to get the approval of the chair of the Care Quality Commission before appointments can be made. The future arrangements are that the chair will make the appointments directly but let us be clear: the chair of Healthwatch England is a Secretary of State appointment and has the potential to be the poodle of the Department of Health. I have been in the position of being in charge of the organisation representing patients and I remember successive Secretaries of State, from two parties, making attacks on the organisation because we were being effective and raising issues that were uncomfortable.

Under those circumstances, can we be satisfied with a future arrangement whereby the Secretary of State solely makes the appointment of that individual, who then appoints all the other members of the Healthwatch England committee? In the initial stage, you have a double lock where the chair of the Care Quality Commission gets involved but in future you will have someone who might be appointed as a poodle or to muzzle the watchdog nature of Healthwatch England appointing individuals who are, no doubt, like-minded. That is why the arrangements are strange.

We then have the provision for suspending members, which is set out here. Presumably, the suspension is different from disqualification but the Secretary of State may dispense with the chair of Healthwatch England for a variety of reasons, which includes,

    “failing to carry out those duties”.

Who is going to determine what those duties should be? Essentially, we are being told that the Secretary of State will decide what he or she thinks is appropriate for Healthwatch England to be carrying out. Again, the chair then has similar powers in respect of individual members. I make a specific request of the Minister: that in his reply he spells out absolutely that it will not be appropriate for either the chair or the members of Healthwatch England to be suspended from their membership if they are pursuing their interpretation of what is in the interests of patients and their organisations, and the people that they represent.

Because of the requirement saying that the chair of Healthwatch England must be a member of the board of the Care Quality Commission, we are inevitably creating that subservient relationship. Will the chair of Healthwatch England be subjected to, in essence, the collective responsibility of the members of the board of the Care Quality Commission? There have been recent issues with the membership of that commission’s board, where the chair has taken a different view about what the role of individual members should be. That has led to conflict and serious problems.

Let us pan forward a few years: if the chair of the Care Quality Commission does not like the approach being taken by the chair of Healthwatch England, are they then able to say, “You are not fulfilling your duties as a member of the board of the Care Quality Commission because you are not abiding by the collective responsibility of that board’s members. I am therefore asking the Secretary of State to remove you from office and suspend you because you are not fulfilling your roles”? Even if that does not happen we will have, as my noble friend Lord Collins said earlier, the appearance of potential conflict of interest. Ultimately, how are the public going to have confidence in a structure where it looks to them as though the leadership of Healthwatch England is subservient to the Care Quality Commission, one of those important agencies about whose effectiveness it may have to make criticisms?

We should remind ourselves that the aim of all this is to enhance the collective voice of patients in the NHS. You will succeed in doing that only if the public at large have confidence in the structures that you have created. If you build into them the appearance of subservience and potential conflicts of interest, you are weakening that voice. That cannot in any way be in line with what either your Lordships would expect to see from this, or indeed with what I believe Ministers’ intentions to be as far as Healthwatch England is concerned.”

Wednesday
Nov 21,2012

This morning the Children’s Commissioner published her shocking report “I thought I was the only one. The only one in the world.” on child sexual exploitation in gangs and groups. This authoritative and well-researched document reports that it had identified 2,409 children as having been identified as victims of sexual exploitation by gangs or groups.

And what has been the Government’s response?

To welcome the report and promise action?

Unfortunately not.

Instead, anonymous government spokesmen briefed the media to say that the report was “over-emotional” and “sensationalist”

I raised this in Question Time in the House of Lords this afternoon. The Minister’s response was hardly effusive: the report was “useful to have”.

Here is the exchange:

“Lord Harris of Haringey:
The noble Earl, Lord Listowel, has referred to the Children’s Commissioner’s report which came out today, in particular the dreadful findings about how many children in care have been sexually abused. Will the Minister tell the House the Government’s stance about that report, given that, apparently, people speaking on behalf of the Government to both the BBC Radio 4 “Today” programme and the Sun said that the report was overemotional and were trying to undermine its conclusions?

Lord Hill of Oareford:
The Government’s stance is that the report from the deputy Children’s Commissioner is helpful for the Government to have. We will reflect on the findings that it makes in terms of its recommendations and its estimates about the extent of the problem. I think I am right in saying that the report recognises that making any precise estimate is by nature very difficult, but the more information we have the better. Even before this report, the Government have been seeking to improve the systems for getting accurate reporting from various local agencies and authorities to make sure that we have as accurate a picture as possible to make sure that we do not underestimate or overestimate the problem. Everyone is very aware of the salience of this issue and the important issues that that report gives rise to.”

Almost as though the Government are frightened of the issue.