Wednesday, 26 October 2011

National Self Service

Here's little tale of one person's interaction with the NHS -  mine.
  • Went to optician (which strangely enough isn't free at the point of use) for an eye test.
  • Referred by optician to my GP
  • Received a letter asking me to make an appointment at an eye clinic. Instructions contained online booking instructions.
  • I go online and fill in all the fields on the online booking system... only to be told at the end of all that that this particular clinic doesn't take online bookings and I need to call them direct.
  • I call clinic and they tell me in order to make an appointment they need to pre-register my request for an appointment and that I need to call call back in a week's time to actually book it. We arrange the day for me to ring.
  • A few days later I get sent a letter telling me that they don't deal with my condition after all and I'm being referred to a clinic in High Wycombe.
  • Clinic in High Wycombe sends me online booking details, login ID and password... for a woman who lives in High Wycombe!
  • I get sent new instructions to make an online booking using my original login details.
  • When I log on to the website and put in my details I'm told that the login has expired.
  • I go back to my GP who re-refers me.
  • I get sent new login details.
  • I book an appointment for Monday 24th at RBH.
  • A week later I get sent two identical first class letters telling me that my appointment for the Monday has been cancelled and it has been moved by them to Friday 28th.
Phew! It was a bit of a marathon and it took over a year but I got there... or did I?

Today I get letter from the RBH eye clinic telling me that I have another appointment next Tuesday at less than a week's notice. Identical letters were sent by first class post - to be sure, to be sure.

However, unlike the previous notification there is no letter telling me that the Friday appointment has been cancelled. Do I assume that Friday's appointment has been cancelled? I have no indication that it has been. This means that I will have to ring them to confirm it is actually a change of date rather than a referral appointment. If I'd booked a day off work to make Friday's appointment and unable to change it to next Tuesday I'd be screwed. So much for putting the patient first.

I know of one constituent who has been denied a hip replacement because she is "too young" to qualify, she is in constant pain can't walk far and would get a longer term benefit from any operation done now and require less prescription drugs. It's nuts even for a cost-benefit analysis nut.

The one common denominator in this. Our GP. At no point have we been let down by him. He knows what the patient requires and the process works well up until that point. It's when "the system" takes over and starts rationing care and resources without focusing on the patient and outcomes that things start going wrong. Basically, I trust my GP to look after my health and to know what's best. I do not trust Trust managers who are bean counters who can only count human-beans

If you believe Labour, they left the NHS a perfect system, state owned and free at the point of use. Stop laughing at the back.

We have an expensive online booking system that may as well not exist. Hospitals owned by private companies under expensive PFI contracts. Many of the services already contracted out by Labour. Their market system forcing PCTs to stop services and close wards. A £20bn cost for a failed IT system that one of the consortium consultants was sacked for having the temerity to tell Labour that it would never work. I'm sure you can find other websites detailing all their "successes".

They left a shambles. Whether promised or not, something has to change. The current structure is clearly not fit for purpose and for all the good things it does, it has its fair share of failure which affect real people.

I'm a big believer in the NHS and the core principle behind it - health care free at the point of use. I refused to join my previous company's health plan because I felt that we would all be better off it they paid more in National Insurance than private health plan subscriptions but for Labour to continue the fiction that the coalition government inherited a system that in places isn't verging on a basket case is disreputable.

However, clearly the Conservative remodelling went too far. You have to watch these Tories like a hawk or before you know it a new NHS baby-eating unit will be opened. It's why I'm pleased to see Nick creating his Signal Passed at Danger team. We spotted this one just in time and have made significant changes to the original proposals and clearly our team in the Lords will be making more changes to ensure that the Tories don't acheive the same objectives of their baby-eating units by simply replacing them with baby-out-with-the-bath-water units. It's why Lib Dems in Government are important. Labour had 13 years of "understanding" ordinary people and failed them at almost every level imaginable. It's up to us to prove that unlike the other two parties we are on your side.

I certainly have more faith in Dame Shirley William's making amendments to the health bill in the Lords than in any amount of Labour health ministers suckered by consultants selling them snake oil.

Tuesday, 25 October 2011

Steal Yourself for a Rough Ride

It seems that stealing someone else's work is rife in the Labour Party. Tony Blair stole Margaret Thatcher's policies; Gordon Brown stole the Tories' finance plans not only perpetuating PFIs and flogging off the NHS but actually making it worse; and Ed Miliband has stolen Kim Jong Il's grip on reality.

So it should come as no surprise to see local Labour bloggers completely bereft of original thought and left passing off other people's work as their own.

Email from Ed Balls to Labour members

A year ago this week, George Osborne announced the biggest spending cuts and tax rises of any major country.

He boasted that Britain was out of the danger zone. And he claimed austerity would boost confidence, jobs and growth. Do you remember how Tory MPs cheered and waved their papers in glee?

Well I can’t hear anybody cheering now. Because the evidence is mounting day by day that this reckless Tory plan is hurting but it’s not working. Our economy hasn’t grown since this time last year.

Families and pensioners are being squeezed by soaring inflation. And here’s the real scandal: there are now more people out of work than for 17 years – when the Tories were last in. And the result? More people out of work and the dole means it's going to be harder to get the deficit down. In fact, there’s going to be £46 billion more borrowing than the government planned.

There’s got to be a better way.

And that’s why Labour has set out a five point plan for jobs and growth – to help struggling families, get young people into work and support small businesses. If you’re out campaigning this weekend help us get the message out there.

Ed Balls

Jan Gavin's thoughts on the economy

A year ago this week, George Osborne announced the biggest spending cuts and tax rises of any major country. He boasted that Britain was out of the danger zone. And he claimed austerity would boost confidence, jobs and growth.

Do you remember how Lib Dem and  Tory MPs cheered and waved their papers in glee?
Well I can’t hear anybody cheering now. Because the evidence is mounting day by day that this reckless Tory plan is hurting but it’s not working.

Our economy hasn’t grown since this time last year. Families and pensioners are being squeezed by soaring inflation. And here’s the real scandal: there are now more people out of work than for 17 years – when the Tories were last in.

And the result? More people out of work and on the dole means it’s going to be harder to get the deficit down.  In fact, there’s going to be £46 billion more borrowing than the government planned.

There’s got to be a better way.

And that’s why Labour has set out a five point plan for jobs and growth – to help struggling families, get young people into work and support small businesses.

How many more jobs must be lost and businesses go bust before this out of touch Prime Minister and Chancellor realise it’s time to change course?

Back our campaign and help us show families and pensioners across the country that there is an alternative – a better, fairer, Labour way to get our economy moving again, get Britain back to work and so get our deficit down.

Jan Gavin

Reading Labour: don't have the Balls to tell people who really wrote it... one of the men responsible for dumping the country in the doo doo in the first place.

Tuesday, 18 October 2011

Unsolicited Credit

I've had a good laugh at the official council press release praising the efforts of the council in reducing greenhouse gases. I shall take that as an admission from Labour that I did a bloody good job last year.

I embarked on the solar panel strategy, commissioned the business plans and obtained agreement for the capital financing for the project.

I commissioned reports on massively increasing the recycling rates in Reading (which unfortunately thanks to the Greens, Labour appear to be abandoning).

Now we see the results of the 10:10 challenge which seems to have avoided mentioning the fact that the council's best performance was achieved the one year Labour was not in charge.

Here's one reason for the difference. The year before (and before that and before that) the Labour council missed its 10:10 targets by miles and you can still see the excuses they used being trotted out by them. "There was an exceptionally cold winter." That's true there was  but what it actually showed was that the insulation wasn't good enough and I told officers as much so I am pleased that they acted on my directions.

Before 2010 the then Labour administration was complacent and unfocused and more intent on making up excuses for failure than doing something about it. It's no coincidence that with all the work I put in on progressing the Lib Dem agenda now finally coming through to implementation that the council can claim to be greener. It simply wouldn't have happened under Labour.

So I'd like to thank Paul Gittings for his officially press released ringing endorsement of my work. Nice to see Labour recognising who it was who made the real difference,

Let's just hope he doesn't mess things up again and set the council backwards and lose all the hard work acheived last year by going back to the complacent and laissez-faire attitude Labour showed in all those previous years.

And whilst I'm having a laugh as people claiming unwarranted credit for their inaction, how about the Greens?

How many times did Rob White attend an environment scrutiny panel last year? Zero.
How many times did he ask for a meeting to discuss environmental matters with me when I was lead councillor? Zero.
How many green initiatives did he ask me to consider? Zero.

He didn't tell the rest of the local Green party any of that because their members seem genuinely surprised when I tell them the true facts behind the "Green pressure". The simple fact of the matter is that there was no green pressure. Nada! Claiming credit for things they haven't done seems to be the order of the day for the Greens now. Not much integrity in that is there!

I said last year that I wanted to be judged on what I achieved. I only got 9 months in control which was never going to be enough but this and other recent glowing council press releases is proof that there was a culture change and real results.

It's just a shame that the Labour/Green council now appears to be doing all it can to unravel these achievements.

Thursday, 13 October 2011

Weird Scenes Inside the Goldmine

Yesterday's planning committee took an odd turn. There was a Lib/Lab alignment and a Con/Green one over a planning application to demolish the building on the corner of Oxford Road and Wilson Road and build a new church in its place.

It got off to a bad start when the applicant referred to it being a political decision (which I felt had to correct him on) so I had to laugh after making that point quite strongly at the apparent sight of a political carve up when committee members seemed to be lining up on party lines.

The fact is that in this instance it was a co-incidence.

My reading is that the Conservatives wanted to make a statement about equal treatment towards mosques and churches. In my eyes, that wasn't predetermination but a predisposition. They are quite different matters. I didn't see a problem with their reasoning as they came up with cogent arguments based on the evidence in front of us and voted according to their arguments.

One of them was a little off-colour when he referred to turning down the application as being an attack on that particular church community. Now, if we want to talk about pre-determination that comment was made by someone who describes himself on one website as "Baptist, Christian" (and who apparently likes Italian and Chinese food)!

Similarly the members of the Labour group who spoke did the same. Gave perfectly reasonable explanations and voted consistent with those reasons.

However, Graham Hoskins used the word "we" when referring to the committee's deliberations. The Green committee member jumped on it and agreed with the Tories that it constituted pre-determination.

Piffle! Mountains and mole hills. In the context it was used it was perfectly reasonable.

The Labour group may want to reflect on Tony Page and Pete Ruhemann's outbursts when they accused Conservatives and Lib Dems of colluding over an application for Denbeigh Place. What goes around comes around. I can't speak for the Conservative group, but neither myself, Kirsten Bayes or Chris Harris (the then Lib Dem planning committee members) had spoken with each other about it let alone with another group about that application. In fact, it was my first ever planning committee meeting and I had only received the papers on the day of the meeting.

I can definitively state that there is no pre-determination from the Lib Dems on the committee. Unlike the other two groups we don't have a pre-meet. In this particular case, Pete and I hadn't discussed the application at all so the fact that we both voted the same way was because we saw the plans presented to the committee on the night and independently came to the same conclusion. That's the way it is meant to work. I have no reason to believe that any other member did otherwise based on the debate.

Either you thought it was over development of the site or you didn't.

I hope the church group has another look at their plans. Their aims were laudable but converting a 300 capacity church into a 300 capacity church, shops, offices, conference centre and flats seemed to me to be excessive on that site. I hope they look at the committee decision and come back with better plans. I quite liked the new Oxford Road frontage they proposed.

I'll leave the other parties to sort out their bun fight over the application and hurl their accusations, but they don't stand up to scrutiny.

Tuesday, 11 October 2011

The Tory Horror Picture Show

It would seem that I've hit a raw nerve with both Tory Central Office and Reading East Conservative Association over a little joke I wrote last week. It was apparently far closer to the mark than I realised when I wrote it!

It's happened before when I wrote a gag on a Sunday about a "safe" football manager being sacked. It was printed on the Tuesday. He was actually sacked on the Friday and my fanzine went on sale on the Saturday. I looked a comedy genius!
It's called serendipity, which I think is appropriate from someone given my background!
Aside: According to George Allegiah's BBC documentary I should be now start calling myself mixed-race, then it got a bit wierd. He was born in Sri Lanka, left in the same year as my Mum, is a Catholic and went to my secondary school in Portsmouth. However, he is not a long lost older cousin... unless his Great-Grandmother was called Mariai in which case I'd really like him to get in touch!

I won't begin to tell the Tories how far off the mark their witch trial is because it is greatly amusing. No doubt their Mole-hunter Pursuivant is threatening all and sundry after my joke but how about this... no-one sent me any email and that's the truth. I heard a rumour. I got lucky!

They may find it hard to believe because they prefer to go mole hunting than address what is really going on but I've known about the various factions in the local Tories for years. It's hardly an open secret. Like which leading local Tory said far too loudly coming out of the Civic after the budget non-appearance fiasco in 2010: "That's it. He's finished" about Andrew Cumpsty? [CLUE, he stood for deputy leader of the Tory group a year later and lost - or wasn't I meant to know about that either?]

What Tory Central Office really need to think about is if their local agitators are sanctioned by them to upset their ordinary members in the way that they treated a hard working and well-liked local councillor then what do they expect? Try interviewing ALL your members if you want to know who may have let slip the red in tooth and claw nature of the Reading East Conservative Association.

The scenario now playing out reveals the understanding at the heart of the Reading Lib Dem/Tory coalition. I can say one thing for definite. If we had the Wokingham/West Berkshire strand of Toryism leading in Reading there would have been no coalition and if the current RECA Junta take over there will never be the prospect of one ever again. Why? Because there were a lot of lefty liberal Tories in the local party.

It's just a jump to the left...

Protecting services to the vulnerable and standing up for the environment were absolute lines in the sand for Lib Dems and what was clear is that the local Tories were willing to allow us to champion those objectives. It's why Daisy Benson was allowed to be lead councillor responsible for adult care, health and housing and I was allowed to direct the environment. There was no way that these services would be bludgeoned whilst we held the portfolios and they weren't. That is not the case in the surrounding unitaries where slash and burn is the order of the day. For goodness sake the Tories allowed us to build council owned properties which Labour hadn't done for over 13 years! We brought in equal pay for staff (although it also has to be said despite Labour and trade Union opposition)!

At Lib Dem conference, I went to a fringe event because one on my heroes Bob Worcester from IPSOSMori was speaking. Also at that event was Dr Daniel Poulter MP, a Conservative. It was clear to me and most people in that room that when he spoke he was in the wrong party. I put it to Dr Poulter that his choice of party really came down to if you want to influence events you have to be in power and that there was a natural home for people like him in the Lib Dems. His answer I shall not divulge to save him from a Tory Party witch hunt but the overlap in the centre of politics between Labour, Lib Dems and Conservatives is a lot bigger than any of the parties wish to acknowledge and that includes several members of the local Labour party.

I can name a good number of the local Tories who could quite comfortably be members of the Lib Dems. They want to protect the old, the young and the environment. They also realise that you can't be progressive from a position of bankruptcy and that high council tax hurts the poor far more than the rich.

...and a step to the right.

There is also a strand that doesn't believe in these as objectives as being worthy in their own right. That balancing of the books is a means to an end. Power is all. It isn't.

What we are now seeing is that post-coalition the Wokingham strand of Toryism seeing its chance to make a move on Reading and it is no co-incidence that the Swaddles are leading players in this.
I think we are approaching a watershed moment in Reading politics. Leading local Tories have to make a decision whether that will allow themselves to fizzle out and fade away and have no influence or whether they are prepared to put up a fight. Putting up a fight would mean leaving the Tory party - but the right has taken a decisive step to take over your local party and it ain't ever coming back.

Of course, it may be a difficult step for some to make but just think of the prize:
  • A majority centre party that looks after all residents, not just trade unionists and those with money.
  • One that protects services to the vulnerable.
  • Believes in public services.
  • Stands up for business.
  • Makes a real difference to the environment.
  • Returns power back to the citizen.
There are also several Labour councillors who would be far more comfortable in the Lib Dems as they take a lurch to the left fuelled by union money. Think about it, you've wasted £1/2m delaying budget savings which you know have to be made in the end. Wouldn't that have been better spent saving the sheltered housing wardens instead of political posturing?

Back to the IPSOSMori meeting I attended. The majority of voters are left-centre/centre/right-centre. Whether Labour or Conservative don't let the extremists dictate direction.

Reading Lib Dems are nice people. Work with us.