Judy Terry: Councillors should stop talking about “ordinary people”

From here.

I do wish politicians, national and local, would stop referring to the electorate as ‘ordinary people’.

What do they mean by ‘ordinary’? Someone who spends their life teaching, nursing, digging up roads, running libraries, operating a till at Poundland, fighting fires, or earning a crust as a self-employed cleaner or writer?

In fact, those of us who actually keep them in a job, voting for them, and paying their stipends and expenses…so patronise us at your peril…

Disappointingly, the phrase has now crept into business leaders’ lexicon, and increasingly broadcast journalists’. It’s time this self-designated elite realised that there is intelligent life beyond the M25.

“Ordinary people” are tired of politicians’ grandstanding and false outrage, whether over Lord Freud’s misreported comments or the NHS. They are scornful of Andy Burnham’s outrageous comments about ‘the private sector running riot in the NHS’; they know this is the politics of fear, which Labour are very good at when they don’t actually have any workable policies, including the much-ridiculed Mansion Tax, which will bring joy to the legal profession, but little – if any – additional funding.

Should MPs whose combined property portfolios exceed £2m be eligible for the tax, perhaps? What we want is honesty, and it seems that message has traction with Simon Stevens, the new head of NHS England, whose 5-year plan has some revolutionary, commonsense, proposals to deliver better ‘joined up’ care, empowering patients.

The report is mercifully short and easy to read, providing a very positive story for our health service, and the increasing role played by local authorities. He agrees with the LGA that enhanced powers affecting physical and mental health be devolved to target prevention, in recognition of the excellent initiatives by some authorities to control fast food outlets and alcohol abuse. But, combining health and social care has been on the agenda for years, without any noticeable improvement – so he faces a challenge in making things actually happen. This is something for the Health & Wellbeing Boards to get to grips with urgently.

I can only hope Mr. Stevens’ ambitions can be realised – with support across the political spectrum, including unions. It would be unwise for anyone to ignore it, or try to make political capital by misinterpreting the content to mislead the public whom Mr. Stevens thankfully refers to as citizens.

Inevitably, funding and productivity are part of the plan.

Talking of money, I was told by a GP that people expect a prescription when they visit the doctor, so it’s easiest to give them one, even when the patient could buy the same drug over the counter for a fraction of the cost. I was also told that £75m a year is spent on unused NHS hearing aids when the majority of patients pay privately for their equipment having quickly discovered they offer better results. Since Mr. Stevens is looking for £22bn of savings – he could start there.

Another saving would be abandoning the need for hospital trusts and GP commissioning groups to have members of the public as ‘governors’. With his plan for a broader community engagement, a single ‘consultee’ structure for, say, a LEP area should be sufficient, saving millions a year in shuffling paper and unnecessary meetings. As a former local authority appointed hospital governor, I can tell you that those meetings were a complete waste of everyone’s time. When boards of directors, especially the non-execs, should be holding the management to account, governors are superfluous.

These may be relatively small savings overall, perhaps, but every little helps.

Now where have I heard that before? If he wasn’t being paid so much, I’d sympathise with Dave Lewis, the new CEO of Tesco who has inherited what appears to be something of a shambles – but he has demonstrated the benefits of bringing in ‘outsiders’, who, like Simon Stevens, take a fresh look at an organisation and fearlessly address its management.

The ordinary people decamping to Aldi and Lidl could tell him a thing or two about why the company’s finances are so lack lustre, not least the bullying tactics it tended to use to get planning consent for new stores. Instead of working with local communities all too often it rode roughshod over them, making Tesco a toxic brand in some areas with the name featured on local councillors’ campaign literature at election time, reflecting the strength of feeling.

Nevertheless, whilst some people will celebrate the mothballing of a brand new £22m store in Chatteris, Cambs, the loss of 250 new jobs is already causing yet more bad headlines. As Mr. Stevens says in his report, getting people into work is a major contribution to health and wellbeing – something which Labour should bear in mind, instead of constantly denouncing the creation of what they like to call low paid jobs.

A rapid solution needs to be found for this vacant property, rather than allowing it to succumb to vandalism. Perhaps it could be adapted as one of Mr. Stevens’ new-style medical centres? If Tesco were willing to carry the rental costs (which they are apparently committed to in any event, open or closed) that would be a welcome demonstration of good faith, and perhaps a turning point for the company’s own wellbeing. The five-year plan talks about strong local leadership – the local council could make this happen.

This entry was posted in Uncategorized and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s