Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Some questions for the scrutiny committee

A letter from Jean Saunders on behalf of the Save Coate campaign.

Dear Councillor Small

We are writing to you in your capacity as Chairman of the Scrutiny
Committee and in response to your request to contact you with issues that
should be subject to scrutiny.

We suggest that the Committee examines decisions related to the Coate
Development proposals.

We believe that Swindon Borough Council has failed to take account of public concern related to the proposals, has failed to consult with the public before pushing forward with substantial policy changes in the emerging Swindon Local Plan and Wiltshire Structure Plan and has broken all promises related to granting planning permission for the new hospital at Commonhead with the understanding that this was a "one-off" and would not open up the Coate area for development.

We do not understand how an area that has been protected fiercely for years through planning policy as a high landscape value area can, over-night, seemingly become valueless. We are angry that no-one is taking account of the concerns of at least 27,000 people who have signed the Save Coate petition and who have called for a one kilometre of buffer of countryside to be left around Coate Water in order to retain its status as a COUNTRY park and not a town park and to protect the environmental,
social and historic assets of the area.

We want to know why the University of Bath has been allowed to dictate planning policy. We want to know why the University of Bath was invited to sit on the Urban Regeneration Company and then the New Swindon Company when its remit was to take part in the urban regeneration programme for Swindon as a result of North Star being identified as the site for the university campus.

We want to know why English Nature, English Heritage, the Countryside Agency and the Environment Agency weren't consulted about the proposals before the planning policies were formulated in draft.

We want to know why the Borough Council has not organised any public meetings where the public might express their views on the matter.

We want to know why the Borough Council has not seen fit to look at the literary importance of the area in relationship to Richard Jefferies' life and works.

We want to know why the Borough Council keeps referring to the COMMONHEAD development area when the development is not taking place on the top of the road junction.

We want to know why the planning applications lodged by the Swindon Gateway Consortium in April 2005 haven't been taken to planning committee and refused planning permission. The applications run contrary to policies in the emerging local plan for this area.

Yours sincerely

Jean Saunders
on behalf of the Save Coate! coalition

Parents rebel at 'Dickensian' school run by millionaire evangelist friend of Blair

We reproduce a Guardian article on the situation at the Trinity Academy. Whilst the organisation running this Academy is different to the one seeking to launch an Academy in Swindon, the experience at Trinity raises issues which relate to the proposal for Swindon.

Backlash over emphasis on religion as suspensions soar in 'covert' selection

Matthew Taylor
Tuesday May 30, 2006
The Guardian

Among the parents who had gathered in the back bar of the Moorends Hotel there were tales of curious expulsions and strange practices. One mother said her daughter had been removed from school after being accused of wearing the wrong trousers, another that her son had been permanently expelled for smoking.

A father claimed his son had been sent home for walking the wrong way down the corridor, another that his 16-year-old daughter was kicked out after getting a kiss from her boyfriend at the school gates. And underlying it all was a feeling that Trinity, the third state funded secondary to be run by an evangelical Christian and friend of Tony Blair, Sir Peter Vardy, was pushing an aggressive religious agenda. Cindy Denise, whose two children are both at Trinity, claimed pupils were disciplined if they did not carry the Bible on certain days and summed up the mood at the meeting, describing the school as "a complete joke". "They are kicking children out for nothing and won't listen to anyone who wants to know what is going on."

Trinity opened last summer next to the chicken factory in the former mining town of Thorne, near Doncaster, and is the latest school in the government's controversial academy schools programme. In its first six months 148 children have been suspended, leading many parents to claim that it was using excessive discipline to weed out children it does not want to teach.

The 1,250-pupil school strenuously denies the charges but the parents at the Moorends Hotel insist that the school is operating a system of covert selection to get rid of difficult to teach children. They say the problems surfaced before Christmas when their children began complaining of "Dickensian-style" discipline and parents noticed an "excessive" number of students being sent home. Pauline Wood, whose daughter was excluded after being accused of having bought her school trousers from the wrong shop, decided to call a public meeting. A few weeks, and several home-made posters later, more than 200 people turned up to air their concerns.
"We thought it was just one or two cases to start with but when we talked we realised the scale of what was happening," said Mrs Wood. "We were really surprised at the strength of feeling at that first meeting and the stories that were coming out about what was happening in the school.

"The strong feeling locally is that the school is aiming to get rid of the pupils that have problems or are considered difficult, they've already got a waiting list with kids from outside the area and they want to get them in so the exam results go up and they can say the school is a success. But what happens to our kids - the kids they don't want?


"When all this started we thought they were trying to get rid of the under-achievers but now we think they are getting rid of any child, regardless of academic ability, who thinks for themselves, who challenges things ... I don't care what anyone says, it's covert selection."
Sarah French, a spokeswoman for Sir Peter's Emmanuel Schools Foundation, which runs the school, denies the allegations. "The idea that we are selecting pupils is a complete red herring and really quite offensive. There is no evidence whatsoever to support that claim, in fact we give priority to children with special educational needs and although we have the right to select 10% of our children by aptitude as an academy we don't because we aim to help each child achieve its potential."

The school says more than 200 pupils were suspended in a similar period at the school Trinity replaced. "The vast majority of parents back what we are doing and see that the measures we have in place are helping change the ethos allowing the children to work in a stable, calm environment," said Ms French.
But parents say the figures do not reflect what they are seeing on the ground. "There was a clampdown at the old school once they knew it was going to be an academy and it has just got worse," said Mrs Wood. "I don't know how they are measuring it but we are certainly seeing more and more children being sent home or kicked out."

Although the allegations of tough discipline and covert selection are the parents' main concerns, some are also uneasy about the religious ethos behind Trinity, citing the decision to give each child a bible as proof that religion pervades every aspect of the school. "They get into trouble if they don't have it [the Bible] with them on certain days," said Ms Denise. "It's not what I want my kids to be doing in school, but I don't have a choice because this is the only school round here and they won't listen to us."

These concerns reflect allegations at another of Sir Peter's state schools - Emmanuel College in Gateshead, which has been repeatedly accused of teaching pupils creationism alongside science.

Tracey Morton, a mother who successfully campaigned against a proposed Vardy academy in nearby Conisbrough in 2004, agreed that the religious nature of Vardy's schools was a real worry for many parents. "These schools peddle a hardcore Christian message and parents don't have any choice about whether that is what they want for their children," she said.


The parents' group in Thorne say they had no idea what they were letting themselves in for before the school opened and they intend to step up their campaign with a march and a protest outside the school gates. Ms Wood said: "Of course we welcome a new school, but we need it to be run by a fair system. There was only a few weeks consultation here and we weren't told anything about what the school would really be like. We want the local education authority to get back involved because at the moment the school is not accountable to anybody. We have no one to go to when things happen - not local councillors or the MP because there is nothing they can do. The school has 100% power over us and all we can do is try and highlight what is going on."

The school denies the claim. Last night a DfES spokesman said academies were improving results. "Quite rightly academies are putting discipline first because it is vital to help children learn, and the early signs are that behaviour is improving and the number of exclusions falling," said a spokesman.

The history: Schools founded on discipline

Sir Peter Vardy's Emmanuel Schools Foundation runs three schools, two in the north-east, one of which was opened by Tony Blair, and the Trinity academy in Thorne, near Doncaster. Sir Peter is a millionaire car dealer and evangelical Christian whose beliefs pervade every aspect of his schools - they all have a reputation for discipline.

Although academically successful, the schools have been dogged by controversy. Emmanuel has been repeatedly linked to the teaching of creationism - most recently in a Channel 4 documentary - and Kings was criticised for having an exclusion rate 10 times the national average.

Last year, as part of a wider investigation, the Guardian revealed that the number of children eligible for free school meals at Kings, the standard indicator of deprivation, had dropped by more than 100 compared with the school it replaced, leading to renewed claims that it was cherry-picking pupils who were easier to teach.

The foundation says that all its lessons comply with the national curriculum, and that creationism is taught in RE rather than science lessons. But according to the head of the foundation, Nigel McQuoid, "schools should teach the creation theory as literally depicted in Genesis" because creation and evolution are "faith positions".

Both Kings academy in Middlesbrough and Emmanuel college in Gateshead have improved their GCSE results. At Emmanuel 97% of students gained five or more GCSE passes at grade A*-C in 2004 (the national average is 52%). The first set of GCSE results at King's showed that it has more than doubled the performance at its predecessor schools, with 43% of pupils now getting five or more good GCSEs.

Matthew Taylor

Monday, May 29, 2006

Poisoning the patients or the visitors?

Burger King in a hospital? It must be a joke? Alas this is Blair's NHS, full of that thing so beloved of the Great Leader, "entrpreneurial activity".

Amongst other things, the commercialisation of the NHS by the Blair government has stepped up pressure on NHS Trusts to maximise their rent income. According to a report in the Observer, dozens of Trusts faced with financial deficits are bringing in burger bars and cafes run by high street chains, to earn higher rents.

Burger King already has four outlets in hospitals across England, including Addenbrookes Hospital in Cambridge, which treats thousands of heart patients each year. Research has not yet been carried out to confirm what percentage of heart patients are treated as a result of Burger King’s culinary efforts. However, its presence in hospitals undoubtedly will assist in producing more patients. This is obviously a good thing given Blair’s ‘reform’ which has meant that Trusts have to compete with each other for patients. Yes, Trusts even advertise these days for sick people.

At Bedford Hospital, the WRVS has recently been told it will lose its shop, in order to maximise its rental income. The WRVS has lost other outlets this year. Voluntary organisations don't pay enough.

Addenbrookes Hospital has in its main concourse a Burger King, a Café Ritazza and an Upper Crust, all of them run on a franchise basis by Medirest (great name), which is part of the Compass food services group. Medirest, which also runs catering, cleaning and portering services across the NHS, says it wants to bring more vending machines into hospitals; the more unhealthy the contents the greater the influx of future patients no doubt.

This is only the latest in a long line of vultures gathering to earn money out of people falling sick. In the Great Western Hospital in Swindon we already know of the charging of sick people to watch TV and the high cost of people using the phone service.

I eagerly await a letter from Peter Brown* explain the benefits of putting the likes of Burger King into hospitals.

(Pete Brown is a long time Labour activist renowned for his letters to the local paper explaining what a phenomenal job the government is doing. His letters are usually heavily laden with statistics from Labour HQ.)

Thursday, May 25, 2006

CWU threatens postal strike

The following is a CWU press release.

"Today CWU restored democracy back to the Post Office” was the message from Billy Hayes, General Secretary, after the announcement that over 90,000 postal workers back the union’s vision for the future of Royal Mail.

Billy Hayes, General Secretary, said: “We live in a democracy and our ballot result is a blow to Royal Mail’s style of management by diktat and imposition.

“Allan Leighton believes in one person one vote - so long as he’s the person with the vote!

“By carrying out this ballot the union has done what Royal Mail was afraid to do – give people a choice over their future.”

After the consultation result an Emergency Motion recommending a ballot on strike action was unanimously passed by the postal conference. The adopted position gives Royal Mail four weeks to reopen pay negotiations with the union and make progress in other areas including resolving monies owed through efficiency savings.

Deputy General Secretary Dave Ward told delegates: “It’s not a sign of strength to impose a pay deal on our members - it’s a sign of weakness.

“Royal Mail needs to understand how serious we are about the imposition of pay. If they don’t return to negotiations they will be faced with the prospect of a national strike ballot.”

Ballot papers were sent to all members working in Royal Mail letters – around 136,000 in total.

91,478 ballot papers were returned – 67.3% in total.

Of those, a massive 98.5% - 90,103 members – voted yes in support of the CWU vision.

Only 1,375 – 1.5% - voted against.

The Telephone Poll:
Separately, to reinforce the consultative ballot, CWU engaged an independent company, The Campaign Company, to carry out a professional telephone poll.

They contacted 1,000 CWU members working in Royal Mail Letters.
Note: the size of this sample means that the result of the poll is statistically valid.

- Of those polled, 949 supported the CWU vision. Only 51 didn’t.
- Significantly, a further 67.9% of those polled said that they were either angry or very angry over the imposition of pay.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Academies fail to improve results, study says
Research from Edinburgh University on exam results from Academies.
Matthew Taylor, education correspondent
Monday May 22, 2006
From the Guardian:

Schools in the government's £5bn academy programme, which aims to create 200 privately run state secondaries by 2010, have failed to improve results compared with the comprehensives they replaced, according to a report.

The study, by a senior academic at Edinburgh University, found the number of pupils getting five GCSE A*-C grades including English and maths has increased by 0.2% - equivalent to three pupils - across the first 11 academies.

Ministers have repeatedly defended the controversial programme, claiming that the schools have brought about a dramatic improvement in academic standards, particularly the number of children getting five or more good GCSEs.

But last night union leaders and opposition MPs said the government had misled the public. Sarah Teather, Liberal Democrat education spokeswoman, said: "This research pulls the rug out from under ministers who have made extravagant claims about the results academies are delivering. The truth is that their performance is much less impressive than the government has spun. Millions of pounds of taxpayers' money is being poured into an unproven scheme."

The government said that according to its figures, the number of youngsters reaching the benchmark five good GCSEs including English and maths at the first 11 academies had increased by just over 1%.

A spokesman for the Department for Education and Skills added that the academies' GCSE results were "outstripping" those of their predecessor schools, adding that if English and maths were not included there had been an 8 percentage point rise in those getting five good GCSEs. "This is the true measure of academies' success and the fact they are transforming lives for the better - that's why they're popular and oversubscribed."

But last night the report's author, Terry Wrigley, a senior lecturer at Edinburgh University and editor of the education journal Improving Schools, said that some academies were diverting children away from GCSEs to boost their standing in school league tables. The study found that many children had been switched from taking separate subjects at GCSE to the vocational GNVQ qualification, which counts as four GCSEs in government tables.

"There seems to be something important going on here," he said. "Of course we should value vocational as well as academic learning, but false equivalents simply let down the most vulnerable young people. It may be in the school's short term interests, and the government's, to improve exam statistics in this way. However, as soon as an individual applies for a job or university place, they will face problems. How many employers regard a GNVQ in computing plus a C in art as equal to five good GCSEs in different subjects, especially if you include English and maths?"

According to Mr Wrigley the proportion of children taking GNVQ qualification has risen from 13% at the predecessor schools to around 52% at the academies.

He said the findings would raise concerns about the government's plans for a new generation of trust schools - based on the academy model. "There are variations between academies; some are doing well and some have worse results than the schools they closed down," he said. "So why is so much success being attributed to business sponsorship? This is poor evidence on which to base the entire government strategy of academies and trust schools. Government thinking appears to be based more on faith in business sponsors and privatisation than any educational evidence."

But a spokesman for the education department insisted the schools were reversing decades of educational failure in some of the country's most deprived areas, adding that GNVQs allowed less academic children to leave school with a recognised qualification.

He said the schools were improving standards in English and maths for 14-year-olds, and that would feed through to GCSE scores in the future.

"A more reliable guide to their success in improving English and maths at GCSE in future is that there has been a 9.4 percentage point improvement rate for English and a 12.9 percentage point improvement rate for maths in tests for 14-year-olds. Achieving the required level at these key stage 3 tests is an important indicator of future success at GCSE."

At a glance
There are 27 academy schools open and ministers hope that will rise to 200 by 2010. The schools cannot charge fees but they stand apart from the state system. Individual sponsors have a large degree of control, appointing managers and deciding the schools' ethos and curriculum.

Sponsors were initially required to pay 20% of the school's capital costs, but that changed to £2m, or less than 5%. The remaining capital costs (around £25m a school) are met by the taxpayer, along with subsequent running costs. So far few sponsors have handed over the full amount.
The government says academic standards are rising more quickly at academies than at the schools they replaced or at other comprehensive schools. Many of the schools have had good Ofsted reports.

Defend Council Housing Conference launches Open Letter to Tony Blair

A DCH conference on May 22nd has agreed to step up the pressure on the government by launching an open letter to Tony Blair demanding the right for direct investment in Council Housing.

Tenants, trade unionists and councillors from across the UK met at the TUC in London for the DCH national conference on May 22. The conference launched a new Open Letter to Tony Blair as a focus to unite all those demanding the 'Fourth Option' to provide a long term secure future for council housing. The 'Fourth Option' directly benefits areas retaining council housing, those in ALMOs opposed to two-stage privatisation and those facing transfer, PFI or ALMO in the coming year.

Jack Dromey reported to the conference that the Labour Party working group to address the 'Fourth Option' motion passed at their September conference was due to meet for the first time.

Download copies of the open letter to use in your area – get tenants, trade unionists, councillors and MPs to sign. Put motions through tenants and trade union organisations supporting the open letter, get leading tenants and union reps and councillors to write a letter to the local press and help get the open letter circulated as widely as possible.

Downlaod the Resolution passed at the Conference.

Report from the Conference

Council tenants from across the country met with councillors and trade union delegates attending the DCH national conference at TUC Congress House in London. 42 areas were represented.

The plenary session, chaired by Alan Walter heard from Michael Meacher MP, Jack Dromey, deputy general secretary T&G; Reg Edwards, Milton Keynes councillor; David Eggmore, UNISON London Local Government; Mike Tansey, Sunderland councillor and Eileen Short, from Tower Hamlets. Austin Mitchell MP on a Public Account delegation to US sent apologies along with Jenni Morrow, secretary Scottish Tenants Organisation.

Delegates split into four workshops. Janet Sillett from the Local Government Information Unit explained how the 'fourth option' can be funded and answered questions. Dexter Whitfield from the Centre for Public Services and Paul Burnham, a tenant involved in Haringey DCH, lead off a discussion on the 'Future of ALMOs'. Eileen Short introduced 'Organising Effective Local Campaigns' and Lesley Carty briefed delegates on the Case Against Transfer.

Jack Dromey, T&G deputy general secretary, informed delegates that the Labour Party NEC working group set up to address the terms of the 2005 conference decision was finally going to meet: "two years running at the Labour Party conference there were overwhelming votes in favour of the 'fourth option' and they were until January of this year simply ignored by government and that's absolutely wrong."

"I must say that as well as the campaign for the 'fourth option' that I also think that we need a second string to our bow and that's councils once again being able to engage in new build. In 1970 there were 172,000 council homes built. By 2001 councils built 487 council homes. In the same year RSLs they built only 22,000. So at a time when the trend is for more people wanting houses what we have got is a decline in social housing and at the heart of that is councils not being able to engage in new build.

But crucially at the next stages we need the twin objectives of on the one hand a free choice for tenants and that must mean a wider range of options open to councils and if tenants vote to stay with their council why should the council not have the resources to renovate council homes. And on the other hand because we need many more units of accommodation councils should be free once again be able to engage in new build with the support of government.

Now today is very well timed because it happens that we have finally have got started tomorrow, Tuesday, the debate within the party around the future options of the councils, including the fourth option and also councils once again engaging in new build. I have to say by the way that in January of this year that was agreed and here we are almost at the end of May but I raised very strongly ten days ago with the party secretary saying that look we can't have the situation where two years running we ignore decisions then at last you agree to enter into a debate and then we wait the best part of five months and bugger all happens.

I think we conditioned the thinking and that debate will commence tomorrow. I don't want to mislead. I wish that I could say today that we are going to be able to quickly make the kind of progress that we would like to see. But I tell you this. The door is open and it's in our hands at the next stages as to how this progress is made. What's been said is that there will be a process over the next eighteen months, leading up to the next comprehensive spending review, with housing a central issue within that, around those twin issues of councils being able to build and councils being able to renovate their housing stock.

I suspect that you like me will take the same view which is we are not going to wait for eighteen month for an outcome. And that then leads on to how we conduct ourselves at the next stages."

I think it is disrespectful for tenants to say to tenants that you can have any choice provide that it is not the choice you want.

You can have the best arguments in the world but to break through what you need is overwhelming community and political pressure and from within the party pressure on government for a change of policy. That means therefore that all of us here today have got a very important role to play. Tenant activists at the sharp end working together with trade unionists and others. MPs like Micheal and Austin. A lot of good councillors who have bravely spoken out on this issue. Working together with us in the trade unions at national level so that we do is win the argument but also win then that change of policy. I am confident, like Michael, that we can do it. I applaud the work that you have done thus far and at the next stages, I'll tell you what, us having forced that door, it's not just people like me - it's all of us together, all of us together - having forced that door open in government let's go through that door and win what tenants deserve and that is a genuine choice for the future and councils once again engaging in new build."

Michael Meacher MP, a member of the House of Commons Council Housing group supporting the campaign, criticised Ministers for saying:

"You can’t have money for investment in repairs and improvements unless you privatise, go to a housing association or to an ALMO. This is one of the great scandals of our time. Just look at the government’s own arguments. Well the government says they believe in real choice. ..Why can’t we choose to stay with our local authority and receive the same funding for council housing.

The government says that it believes in transparency and fairness. So do we all. How do they justify siphoning off this £2b a year in housing revenue account and right to buy receipts. How do you justify prohibiting councils from using their own rental income and the value of their own housing stock in order to support borrowing to fund housing improvements..."

Alan Walter, DCH chair, summed up where the campaign has got to:

"We’ve build an unprecedented alliance of tenants, trade unions, councillors and MPs. We’ve won the argument almost everywhere except in the Cabinet.

The government has come under sustained pressure in the last year, including: evidence from the House of Commons Council Housing group (May 2005); the Audit Commission call for a 'review of housing finance (June 2005); 98 local authorities opting for stock retention (July 2005); the almost unanimous vote at the Labour Party conference (Sept 2005); the DCH Lobby of Parliament (Feb 2006), 144 MPs signing the current Early Day Motion and a growing proportion of NO votes including Sedgefield, Tower Hamlets, West Lancs, Waverley, Edinburgh, Selby, Mid-Devon, Cannock Chase and Waveney.

Our job now is to unite all those in the 98 authorities retaining their council homes, the 50 odd councils with ALMOs who don’t want the second stage of privatisation and help those facing new privatisation proposals to see the threat off in their area.

We need to take the open letter to Blair onto every council estate, get trade unionists signing up at work and ask every elected councillor to sign too. Ministers need to realise that come September, when the Labour Party conference meets again, the spotlight will be on whether they are capable of listening and respond to the overwhelming demand that they deliver on improving all our council homes and estates."

1. Help get the open letter circulated as widely as possible
2. Download copies of the campaign open letter to use in your area
3. Get tenants, trade unionists, councillors and MPs to sign
4. Put motions through tenants and trade union organisations supporting the open letter
5. Ask leading tenants and union reps and councillors to write a letter to the local press urging others to sign too

Friday, May 12, 2006

Wiltshire NHS - The worst Year ever?

Here are three news items relating to the proposed decimation of the health service in Wiltshire. Compare this reality with the comment of Health Secretary Patricia Hewitt that this is "the best year ever" for the NHS.

Heated row over hospital closure

By Charley Morgan (Wiltshire Times)

THERE were heated confrontations in Warminster on Tuesday as more than 400 people turned up for a public meeting on the closure of the town's hospital.

The meeting at the Assembly Rooms began with 200 people shut out because not enough seats had been provided. But when the crowd started chanting Let them in' they were allowed to stand at the back of the hall to hear what Kennet and North Wilts and West Wilts primary care trusts had to say.

Protesters gathered outside the hall before the meeting, with placards and banners chanting Save Warminster Hospital' as health chiefs arrived. Roger Davey, of Unison, told the crowd on a loudspeaker: "This is the start of a long campaign.

"We are fighting for a hospital service, the NHS and for the elderly. We need the hospital service to keep people alive." Tessa Atwater, of Friends of Warminster Hospital, said: "There are 16 primary schools that are served by this hospital, who is going to take them to the hospital if they are having an asthma attack and need to be put on a nebuliser?"

Inside, Carol Clarke, chief executive of both PCTs, faced a barrage of questions on the Pathways for Change document, which lists three options, all outlining the closure of Warminster Hospital. Cllr Chris March said: "The hospital belongs to the people. There are no alternatives in place and we will be left with nothing if we are not careful."

Dr Vivian Stevens, a GP at The Avenue Surgery, Station Road, told the PCT board: "This document reminds me of an Easter egg lots of packaging but very little inside. There are no provisions for palliative and terminal care."

Protester Michelle Meadows asked the PCT if it were true women from west Wiltshire will not be able to give birth in the district in future, with the maternity unit at Trowbridge Hospital facing the axe. Mrs Clarke simply replied: Yes unless they give birth at home."

A nurse from Warminster Hospital asked what kind of care could be provided for the elderly at home if they did not have air mattresses to prevent bedsores and hoists to lift them.

Julie Clatworthy, director of clinical governance and chief nurse, said: "People are much more likely to get infections such as MRSA in hospital than they are at home so it's going to be much better for them."

Michael Turner, from Warminster Independent Trade Association, said: "This is not a consultation it's a creditors meeting. If you were a private company you would be bankrupt as it is you are just morally bankrupt."

Show of strength in hospital battle

By Nigel Kerton (Gazette & Herald)

THE people of Marlborough and the surrounding area put on an amazing show of force on Monday to demonstrate to health chiefs their anger at proposed cuts in Savernake Hospital services.

At least 700 people turned out to let the Kennet and North and West Wiltshire Primary Care Trusts see they will not let the hospital close or accept any reduction in services without a fight.

Fewer than 200 people were admitted to the meeting in the Assembly Room, the biggest room in the town hall, because of health and safety limitations on numbers.
More than 500 were turned away including the leader of Kennet District Council Chris Humphries.

He and John Macdonald, who is a member of the Marlborough Area Community Strategic Partnership, counted more than 500 disappointed people who were turned away.
Those in the queue were placated with the promise of another meeting and yesterday the PCT confirmed it would take place on June 26, at 6.30pm in the Memorial Hall at Marlborough College, which seats 450.

There were calls for the PCT chief executive Carol Clark and other trust members to resign.

Anger was also expressed that Mrs Clark gave a presentation lasting 30 minutes when chairman Professor Alastair Bellingham had limited the meeting to just 75 minutes.
Under discussion were three options for the future of healthcare in the district, none of them keeping the minor injuries unit open at Savernake and one of them proposing the hospital should close.

MP Michael Ancram pointed out that option one would leave the whole of Kennet with no hospital, no minor injuries unit and no maternity unit. He said the area had a population of 100,000 and added: "What is proposed is simply not good enough."
Without blaming the PCT Mr Ancram said: "We are paying the penalty for being underfunded and what we have been asked to accept is unacceptable."

Dr Jonathon Glover, a Marlborough GP, said the interest in the town was on retaining Savernake Hospital and building on its services.

Dr Glover said the new hospital, which opened in September after a £10million rebuild, had not been given a chance to prove itself and said: "We need the trust of the PCT to help us through the first 18 months and get it running."

There was applause when Nigel Triptree, a local resident, said the present dire straits the PCT was in was "due to bad management".

Ray White, president of the Friends of Savernake, revealed they had given more than £500,000 to the hospital over the last 50 years but said its last gift of £60,000 had not even brought a letter of thanks from the PCT.

Make your protest heard now
(Gazette & Herald)

SAVE OUR HEALTH SERVICES: THOUSANDS of fliers and posters are being printed this week urging people to turn out in their hundreds to protest against the threats to Chippenham Hospital at a public meeting next week.

Campaigners want to see maximum turnout at the Neeld Hall meeting on Tuesday evening to prove to the Kennet and North and West Wiltshire Primary Care Trusts just how strong feeling is.

Retired GP Nick Whyatt said a band of protesters would be handing out fliers at supermarkets and sticking posters up around the town.

He urged concerned residents to write to the health trusts now with their fears.

"We can't accept any type of closure or loss to hospital beds in Chippenham," said Dr Whyatt. "In fact we must have another meeting to discuss enlargement of the hospital.

"There must be no reduction in beds.

"Chippenham Hospital is a hub of services for the elderly and new plans should be drawn up."

Dr Whyatt said he couldn't stress enough the importance of people letting the trusts know how concerned they are.

He said: "The PCT thinks it is not getting any letters, and what we want is an overwhelming number so they can't ignore them."

MP James Gray met with protesters and a group of doctors last week to discuss the way forward at next week's meeting.

He said: "I am by no means convinced that the threat to Chippenham Hospital has receded. It appears that the PCT very much prefers option one, but all three options in the consultation paper would mean the effective destruction of community hospitals across Wiltshire, with only the slenderest resemblance of a hospital left in Chippenham.

"My strong view is that all three options are unacceptable and that everyone must write and campaign to reject all three and call for the preservation of community hospitals in the area.

"I urge all those concerned to come to the Neeld Hall on May 16 at 6.30pm to let their views be known to the PCT.

"I hope to be joined there by doctors Nick Brown and John Barter of the Rowden Partnership, Jamie Brosch of the Hathaway Surgery, Chris Dyer, the geriatric care consultant at Chippenham Hospital and Robert Muir from the Lodge Surgery."

CAC instructs Homebase at Swindon to recognise TGWU

Despite being instructed to recognise the TGWU Homebase is resisting implementing the instruction which is legally binding.

Homebase has been told by the Central Arbitration Committee (CAC), the legal body that rules on trade union recognition disputes, that it must recognise the T&G after the majority of its Swindon staff joined the Union, and 80 per cent of the workforce signed a petition in favour of union recognition.

The TGWU says that management has been using illegal tactics in Swindon to prevent its employees being represented by the TGWU after the company lost a legal bid to block recognition

“Homebase, a wholly owned subsidiary of Argos, has now broken the law by intimidating workers,” said T&G officer Hugh Kirkbride. “The company has now employed three union-busting consultants, who will not identify their organisation, to misinform fewer than 180 workers about their rights and their union.

“Assisted by local management, they are attempting to bully workers into signing letters prepared for them, opposing the legal decision of the CAC. Polish workers have been singled out for particular attention: this is shameful behaviour towards employees not always familiar with their rights in the UK, and we believe represents an attempt to create ethnic division among the workers.

“Workers are also being told by management that if the union succeeds in winning recognition, the company will close the Swindon depot with the loss of all 179 jobs. This threat is also a breach of the Trade Union and Labour Relations Act 1992.

“We have filed a formal complaint with the CAC, and we are demanding direct negotiations with Argos at group level to remove the illegal obstacles to recognition at the Swindon depot.”

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Health Crisis, what crisis?

STUC Secretary Martin Wicks writes on the news of redundancies at Swindon's Great Western Hospital and the national health crisis.

No wonder Patricia Hewitt was booed by nurses at the RCN conference. To assert that this has been “the best year ever” for the NHS contradicts the reality experienced by staff and patients, as the redundancies mount up around the country. What appears incomprehensible to many is why this crisis is taking place when the government is spending more money than ever before on the NHS. Where is the money going? Some of it has gone to increased wages for NHS staff (historically many of them lowly paid), but most of that has gone to the new consultants’ contract, and to GPs. Still more is being handed over to private companies as a result of the introduction by this government of a ‘competitive market’. In fact they are throwing money at the private sector. Far from open competition, PCTs have been instructed to hand over work to the private sector. The government has introduced a ‘payments by results’ system for the NHS, but the private companies have been guaranteed payment whether or not they do the amount of work they are contracted to do.

So whilst hospitals around the country are making cuts in service because they do not have sufficient funds to carry out all the work that they could, private companies are being paid for work which they have not done. In furtherance of their free market ideology the government is giving privileges to big business. This is a system which will necessarily eat away at the very foundations of the NHS because, under ‘payment b y results’, the less work the NHS does then the less money it receives. This is not a ‘free market’ but a system which the government has rigged in favour of private business. In fact in order to encourage the private sector to enter into the ‘health market’ the government is actually paying an average of 11% more per operation to private companies than it pays the NHS!

What has precipitated the rush of thousands of redundancies around the country is the instruction from the government that all Trusts have to balance their books. The NHS is to operate like a profit-making business. But, of course, it is not making things, but treating people who do not fall sick by order. As one health worker said to me, what happens if the budget has run out and there is a smash on the motorway? Do they turn the patients away? Send them to another hospital? The answer, of course, is that they would make cuts elsewhere.

These reforms supposedly to improve ‘efficiency’. But since the government has decided that the NHS must operate like a business, the measure of efficiency comes down to the ‘bottom line’. It is budget driven. Under the old system if a hospital over-spent as a result of an increase in numbers of people they treated, a situation beyond its control, the additional money necessary was provided.

In Wiltshire the crisis is unprecedented.

• The Great Western Hospital in Swindon is proposing 99 redundancies and a further 99 posts to be frozen.
• In the area of the Kennett and North Wilts PCT, it is proposed to close 5 community hospitals. Depending on which option is chosen, Melksham and Savernake hospitals could be closed, leaving just Chippenham hospital open.
• Malmesbury Community hospital’s maternity and minor injuries unit has already been closed by Kennet & North Wilts PCT.
• In January debts were announced of £8.2 million for Kennet & North Wilts, £3.7 million for South Wiltshire PCT, £1.7 million for Swindon & Marlborough Trust, and £7.5 million for West Wiltshire PCT.

As a result of the financial crisis of the PCT’s, the Intermediate Treatment Centre at the Great Western Hospital has 36 out of 108 beds unused (20 of these beds are in any case already already for private work) because of drops in ‘demand’ from surrounding PCTs. The purpose of building the ICT was to take pressure off of the beds in the GWH. Chief Executive Lyn Hill-Tout has now come up with the brilliant idea of leasing more space to the private sector!

The redundancies proposed for the Great Western are designed to save £2.2 million a year. But they are not “efficiency savings”. In a paper presented to the Trust Board on April 28th the management admit the cuts “will lead to reduced staff for patient care”. Moreover, although they are asking for volunteers for redundancy they will have discretion over who is given redundancy, depending on how much each individual would receive (length of service etc). So whether there are sufficient volunteers remains to be seen. Either way the loss of jobs will impact on the service provided. The Trust has merely said it will try to ‘mitigate’ the impact.

The Swindon Advertiser editorial described this situation as “yet more evidence of the shameful and chronic shortfall in funding it must perennially suffer.” From this it draws the conclusion that:

“The fact that the money should come from Whitehall is something that the hospital, like the rest of Swindon will just have to live with.”

On the contrary, given that this is just the beginning of the crisis, instead of such a ‘nothing can be done’ attitude, it is necessary to campaign for a fundamental change of direction from the ‘health market’ that the government is introducing.

When the NHS was founded in 1948 it was a decision to take health care out of the market; to turn it into a social service rather than a commodity which people had to buy or go without if they could not afford to pay. Health care was considered as something which was a social right irrespective of the economic circumstances of each individual.

Whilst the current government says that it will continue with health care free at the point of delivery, they have undermined the rationale for a free service (actually based on general taxation). It has introduced a system in which Trusts compete with each other for patients. ‘Patient choice’ treats patients as if they were ‘consumers’ paying for a commodity. In reality patients do not want a choice when they are sick. They would like to be treated at the local hospital, or the nearest one which dealt with their particular illness if it was a specialised discipline. They do not want to have to drive a long way because their local hospital has been closed.

To preserve what is best about the NHS there is an urgent need for a campaign to reverse the ‘reforms’ which the government has introduced; end the ‘health market’ and competition for patients.

Nationally the Keep Our NHS Public (http://www.keepournhspublic.com) campaign has been launched to oppose the government’s reforms. It brings together NHS staff and their trades unions, patients and supporters of the NHS. The latest support came recently when the Junior Doctors’ conference within the BMA voted to support the campaign.

There is some interest expressed amongst NHS staff for setting up a local group of KONP. If anybody is interested in helping out please contact us by email ( swindontuc@btinternet.com ) or ring 07786394593.

Monday, May 08, 2006

"People will die as a result of your action"

The report below is from the Wiltshire Times on the crisis of health care in Wiltshire.

HEALTH chiefs came face-to-face with a packed hall of more than 200 angry hospital supporters at the first meeting of the Pathways for Change consultation.

Fears over problems with public transport to distant hospitals and the loss of the maternity unit at Trowbridge were two of the major issues sparking emotional reactions at the meeting held in Matravers School, Westbury, on Tuesday.

The purpose of the meeting, the first of a series across towns in the area, was to discuss the three options put forward for the future of health care by West Wiltshire and Kennet and North Wiltshire PCTs.

Under all three proposals Westbury and Bradford on Avon hospitals will remain shut and those in Trowbridge and Warminster will definitely close.

Under one of the options Melksham Hospital would also close leaving no community hospitals in west Wiltshire.

Before the meeting Westbury mayor Mike Hawkins gave an impassioned speech about the anger felt by many in the town.

"We are angry for what was done and the way it was done. We are angry about the way dedicated staff have been treated," he said.

"We are angry that having lost certain elements, and having been told these would be provided at neighbouring hospitals, we learn these other hospitals are also threatened."

Shiena Bowen, chairman of West Wiltshire PCT, told the audience the purpose of the consultation was not to discuss decisions already made but to move forward and look at the options available.

Carol Clarke's announcement that under one of the options Chippenham Hospital would be the nearest community hospital was met by sarcastic laughter by residents worried about the distance between the two towns.

Cllr John Clegg said: "As far as I can see the access is only available for somebody who has a car. A very large percentage of people don't have that facility.

"I question whether you have sat down and worked out how long it takes a relative to visit the stroke centre in Chippenham from Westbury."

Mrs Bowen said they were aware there were transport problems but these could not dictate how changes to health care were made.

"Once we've reached conclusions we'll have to influence the travel in place. We already have a transport group set up investigating patterns," she said.

"We know it is an issue everyone is concerned with and we will tackle it and make sure people can get from A to B."

Midwives from the maternity unit at Trowbridge Hospital spoke up and said the proposal to only have one unit in Chippenham would put mothers' and babies' lives at risk.

Mrs Clarke refused to answer directly yes or no whether the decision to close community hospitals was based on the financial crisis facing the west Wiltshire and Kennet and north Wiltshire PCTs, which are more than £20m in the red.

She said: "The PCT does have a financial problem which hasn't been addressed for a number of years but even if this PCT was balanced we'd still be putting the proposals forward because we believe it is the right thing to do for health care."

Dorian Jones, a member of the Westbury Hospital League of Friends, left the board with a stark message.

"People are going to die as a result of your actions," he warned.

The second meeting was due to be held in Devizes on Wednesday while a third meeting was held in Bradford on Avon last night.

Future meetings

• May 11: Melksham Assembly Hall
• May 15: Clarendon College, Trowbridge
• May 16: Chippenham Neeld Hall
• May 24: Corsham Town Hall
• June 6: Box Selwyn Hall
• June 7: Calne Town Hall

Sunday, May 07, 2006

GMB slates job losses at Great Western Hospital

GMB, Britain’s General Union, attacked plans by the management of the Great Western Hospital in Swindon to axe up to 200 jobs, 99 of which were likely to involve redundancy.

4 May 2006
Trade unions at the Great Western Hospital were told today (4 May) that the Trust needed to make £2.2m in savings per annum as a result of a financial deficit. The Trust is required to achieve a balanced budget this year and faces a potential deficit of £5m.

Kevin Brandstatter, GMB Organiser for Swindon said: “The Swindon and Marlborough NHS Trust are the latest Trust to suffer financial problems as a result of Government policy. Patricia Hewitt was quite rightly booed off the stage at the union conferences last week. The continued bungling ineptitude of the Government is now putting the health and wellbeing of people from Swindon and North Wiltshire at risk. The decision to replace the Princess Margaret Hospital with a new hospital based on the much criticised PFI process is also partly responsible for the financial mess surrounding the Great Western Hospital. The Trust has contractual obligation to Carillion, the owners and builders of the Hospital to pay them irrespective of the financial state of the Trust or the need to provide services to patients.

The essence of the PFI project is now abundantly clear - private profit first, patient care second. If the Trust did not have to pay such massive sums to a private company it would not have to make so many job cuts.

It is clear that patient care will be compromised by the cuts in staff at the hospital – there is no way that a hospital can lose so many jobs without disruption to patient care. The Trust will try obviously try to avoid compulsory redundancies by not filling these posts and by natural wastage, but when a nurse or health care assistant leaves and is not replaced there is one less person to look after patients.

GMB will defend members’ interests vigorously and intends to campaign against these unnecessary job losses”.

Campaign against proposed Academy

More than 30 people attended an open meeting called by Swindon Trades Union Council to discuss the proposed Academy to replace Headlands school.

More than 30 people attended an open meeting organised by Swindon TUC on the issue of the Academy proposed to replace Headlands school. Phil Baker of the teaching union ATL, who spent many years teaching at Headlands spoke against the Academy. He pointed out that when the issue was discussed at the town’s Educational Partnership Board and everybody apart from Tory Councillor Gary Perkins voted against the idea. According to his information the United Learning Trust would be handed over the school for 125 years!

Penhill Councillor Andy Harrison called for public investment rather than giving away public assets to an anti-union car company and a religious trust. The only people to profit from our schools should be our children.

NUT Assistant General Secretary Christine Blower talked about the national experience of Academies.

UNISON Secretary Bob Cretchley said:

“There is clearly a good cross section of people opposed to the Academy and it is all about ensuring that there is a big campaign to stop this from happening. We need to be working together because there is a good chance we can scupper this.”

The meeting agreed to set up a campaign to oppose the Academy which would involve education unions, school governors, parents and residents from the local area. Details of a meeting to organise a campaign will be circulated shortly.