Two weeks ago I went to a meeting at the Department of Health called to look at how public health services will be returned to councils when PCTS are disbanded in 2012. I went like Daniel into the Lion’s Den. Because it was the holiday period I happened to be the only local government person there and I thought that I would have to go into defensive mode (which I always do in an attacking way!) with people who just resented the way in which they were leaving the NHS.
Far from it. The mood was upbeat. People wanted to come back to councils because they saw that this is where public health belonged. Most of the pro active health services are already with us. Housing, parks, sport, environmental health, the youth service, fitness centres are all part of our overall work. In many parts of the Country there are already joint appointments between health and council staff. Section 75 agreements have wedded departments together so this is a logical step which will bring public health back into local governance, will improve efficiency and will abolish a layer of unnecessary quangos.
Within days I was asked to hold a meeting with Angela Mawle, the Chief Executive of the UK Public Health Association. As a result of that the LGA is drawing up a joint ‘transfer’ programme to look at the ways in which we merge over the next 18 months or so rather than have a big bang merger on 1st April 2012. We may also hold a national joint conference for Public Health professionals and decision makers at which we can look at mergers and the exciting things about new policies and methods of service delivery that should flow from it.
Next week I am also meeting The President of the UKPHA and Ruth Hussey, the Director of Public Health for the North West. I was delighted to learn that some of the best practice in the country in terms of joint working is in our region (well a little of it is in Manchester so we can forget that bit!) We are going to look at having a regional conference to build on that good practice and take a leading position in helping the rest of the Country with the moves.
Why am I telling you this? Well for two related reasons. Firstly, in my opinion too many Lib Dems are so fixated on the short term problems of the budget and Comprehensive Spending Review that they are failing to see the many good things that the Government – in many cases inspired by the Lib Dem part of it are doing. These health changes, if handled properly, will have along-term effect on the health of the nation that will be felt for decades to come. Secondly because we are acting in such an introverted way we are not getting the good news out to people. How many Focus have yet been delivered about civil liberties, about tax cuts for the poorest; about linking pensions to wages; about the environment; about the abolition of quangos etc, etc, etc.
We are not doing well in the opinion polls partly because we have temporarily lost confidence in ourselves, our parliamentarians and our Party. None of us have changed because we are in coalition. I still believe what is written on membership card, I am still confident that the only party who believes those things is this one and I am increasingly confident that our parliamentarians will deliver more and more of our manifesto as they become more accustomed to using the levers of power.
And the final irony for this blog? Well, of course, it’s the fact that moving public health back to councils was not in our manifesto. Our policy was not as good as that as it would have involved entrenching a health silo which would have inhibited joint working not supported it. Who says that a coalition between two parties cannot be more flexible and innovative than a one party state!?