Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Big decisions in Powys

Powys County Councillors agreed two very important decisions today. The first was that the Council should 'move towards' a merger with Powys Local Health Board. The anticipated date on which this merger is intended to be finalised in 2012 - at the earliest. The second decision was to appoint Jeremy Patterson as the Council's new Chief Executive on a permanent basis, at an annual salary beginning at over £124,000 - without any competition. He had fulfilled the role on an 'interim' basis since March when his predecessor, Mark Kerr, resigned.

The proposed merger is hugely significant. Its would be a very big deal indeed were the delivery of healthcare to be placed under democratic control - first time since the 1940s. Over the last few weeks, several people have asked me what I think of this. Its just not been possible to express a firm opinion. Bearing in mind how important a decision it is, there has been almost no public discussion. The phrase that comes to mind is 'buying a pig in a poke'. At present the LHB spends about £12 million more per annum than its budget, which is covered by the Assembly Government. I'd want some firm assurances about how this financial 'black hole' is going to be filled. I wouldn't want to be the councillor who closed all of our Community Hospitals. But I have no objection in principle to the merger, and in my opinion the Councillors had no option but to proceed further. I'm not sure that I share the certainty of the press release issued by the Council after the decision, which announces "Better services for citizens and better use of the Powys pound". This deal is not sealed yet.

The Councillors voted unanimously to appoint Jeremy Patterson as Chief Executive. I blogged on this last Friday. I'm told there were questions about how this story appeared on this blog, when it was supposed to be confidential. I'm told there could be another Powys CC 'leak' investigation. Well, they won't have to look far. I'm also told that one leading councillor had placed it on his web site before I blogged on it. Anyway, Jeremy Patterson seems a good choice to me. It's interesting though that an appointment at a salary similar to that of the Welsh First Minister can be made without any competition whatsoever. Whatever, this blog wishes Jeremy good fortune as he takes on such an important job at such a difficult time.


Jeff Jones said...

Glyn all the evidence from the Audit Commission in England is that external appointments by competition for senior officer posts are often no better than internal appointments. Given the evidence from other authorities I also doubt that despite the salary there would have been many applicants. Most local government officers in England seem to be ignoring job opportunities in Wales since devolution. A friend recently retired from a senior position in a Welsh authority with a salary over £100k and there were very few applicants and no one from across Offa's dyke. At least the Powys Councillors know what they are getting and the internal applicant will also know what he needs to do. On the merger anyone who believes in local government should welcome this move. Health should return to democratic control. Bevan won the debate to nationalise the Health service in the 1940s. But the loser Herbert Morrison argued against Bevan because he had been responsible as Leader of the LCC in the 1930s for the huge improvement in health care in London driven by the local council. Council run hospitals were often far better than those in the private sector. It will mean that councillors will have to take difficult decisions. But that goes with the territory of being an elected politician. I had rather Michael Jones take the decisions than someone appointed by the Assembly. After all voters can get rid of Michael Jones but Local Health Board appointees are only accontable to the minister in the Assembly. In fact it would be an interesting quiz question if anyone could actually name the Chairs and members of the new Health Boards.

Anonymous said...

so Glyn did your Conservative colleagues vote to put Patterson in as Chief Executive without any competition?

Glyn Davies said...

Jeff - I agree with all you have written - which is why I agree with both of the decisions that the Councillors took yesterday. Both issues are not straightforward an dneed a lot of consideration - but I'd have voted as the Councillors did.

Anon - The vote was 'Unanimous', and even though it seems unusual, I accept that it was probably the right decision.

Thrill or nightmare said...

Whatever the merits for democratic control of Health services in Wales and there are many - Powys have seriously erred, imho, to take on the liability of running the local health service, WAG must be rubbing their hands with glee at the prospect of passing liability over to Powys.

I was asked by a councilor with a vote on this issue to look at the published paperwork/report (I did not see any confidential papers and neither were any offered to me) and it was as clear as coal soot on white snow to me that the risks and liability were simply too huge to compensate for the thrill of being the first local authority in the country to merge with the LHB.

Aside from the fact that the two services (council and LHB) have different cultures and pay systems the merged authority will be faced with decisions on spending money on something that can save someone's life verses refurbishing an asset such as a library or school gym.

There is a strong risk that one side will gain over the other at the other's expense. Imho, there will be a de-merger down the road. Cooperation between the two authorities is one thing, merger another. The thrill of being the first in the country to merge in this fashion poses grave risks to the people of Powys.

It’s an experiment with huge risks for the people of Powys.

Glyn Davies said...

Thrill or Nightmare - I think the Councillors share your concerns, and are nothing like as committed to this merger as has been reported. This was behind the amendment to include the words 'moving towards', which don't have much meaning, except to indicate this concern. I share Jeff's supportive view about local democracy - but there is nothing like as much understanding of the implications for anything but an 'in principle' decision to move forward, gingerly.