Wednesday, 30 March 2011

A health(y) debate

My colleague Nathan Bale has criticised the time taken at yesterday's full council meeting debating changes to the adult community health service in Cornwall.

I respectfully disagree with Nathan's view on this.

Health services are a huge concern to people across Cornwall and the changes that are proposed are substantial. If you take the narrow view - that the Council should only ever deal with issues which are entirely under its direct control - then our scope for influence would be very limited indeed. But, as has often been said, the aim of the Council is to be the strategic overseer of public services in Cornwall and thus we have a legitimate interest in issues which affect our work - as adult community health services do.

Whilst Parliament is debating the overall policy on changes, it is not going to focus on the effects in Cornwall and the NHS is hardly known as the most open and democratic debating chamber. If no one else is hosting such a debate, it can be incumbent on the Council to do so.

Ironically, one of the people who has often cited the need for Cornwall to think big is the Leader of the Council. But he was one of those who protested yesterday that health should be left to the NHS.

As it was, I felt that the health debate was a very interesting one and we heard from a wide variety of members. The end result was that members voted not to simply leave it to the NHS but to ask the scrutiny committee to look in detail at the proposed changes and how they would impact on local people.

We also voted against a proposal to have a 'referendum' on the proposed changes. I put the word referendum in inverted commas because it would be no such thing. Whilst we can try to influence the outcome, Cornwall Council does not make the final decision and, in any case, a ballot would not be the final say yet would cost up to £600,000 which could be better spent on other services.

Incidentally, Nathan also refers to the decision to debate double summer time and a St Piran's Day holiday. Neither of these is a decision that will ultimately be taken by the Council, but both have key relevance to Cornwall - our economy in the case of summertime and our culture in the case of the public holiday.

I believe it is right for the Council to debate key issues of policy - both to gauge opinion among members and to influence the decision makers. There has to be a limit of course. Military action in Libya - for example - is not something which directly affects public services in Cornwall and should be outside the scope for debate. But the NHS does and it should be.

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