Southend Council defers decision to join dubious Joint STP Scrutiny Committee.
Southend Borough Council’s (SBC) People Scrutiny Committee last night deferred making a decision on signing away much of its oversight powers regarding the highly controversial Sustainability & Transformation Plan (STP) from Essex Success Regime, to a joint committee with Essex County Council & Thurrock Council, until its next meeting on 10th October.
At the meeting, I asked Cllr Lesley Salter – the Conservative’s Executive Councillor for Health & Adult Social Care, about the necessity, legality and the benefit to Southend’s residents of setting up such a joint committee – the full text of which and Cllr Salter’s answer I have posted at the foot of this article. I believe that Cllr Salter is wrong in her assertion that the Essex Success Regime constitutes an NHS body, itself not being a statutory body, and as such there is no legal compulsion to form a joint committee – a view also taken by Thurrock Council that has not been legally challenged.
Several Councillors including Labour’s Anne Jones and Independent & Vice Chair of the scrutiny committee, Cllr Lawrence Davies, expressed doubts as to the benefits of adding a further layer of bureaucracy and opacity to the process of scrutinising the Success Regime’s plan to make cuts of over £400 million to NHS spending in mid & south Essex.
A joint committee will also make the process less accessible to the public, with meetings rotating between Chelmsford, Thurrock, and Southend, meaning long and time-consuming journeys for anyone wanting to attend.
The structure of the committee will, in addition, be highly undemocratic with councils disproportionately represented and representatives possibly being all from the same political party.
Thurrock Council has already decided not to join the joint committee and, despite SBC officers insisting councils must consult jointly when dealing with an NHS body on a county-wide basis, the Success Regime is not an NHS body in the same way organisations like Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs) are, and has no legal standing and is unaccountable to the public.
Some councillors, notable the Conservative’s Cllr David Garston, appeared more keen to “take a lead role” than they were to establish whether the committee would be beneficial or even necessary, preferring to jump in the ‘driving seat’ as Lead Council and charge full speed ahead before even knowing where they were going.
The Lib Dem’s Cllr Carole Mulroney eventually proposed that a decision be deferred until the next meeting of the committee which, seeing as the Success Regime had failed to provide the latest draft of its plan in time for the meeting, seemed a prudent suggestion and was agreed on.
It is the view of Save Our NHS, Southend that Southend Council should not enter in to a joint scrutiny committee with either or both the other councils for the reasons stated above.
Here is the text in full of the question put by myself to Cllr Lesley Salter and her answer:
“Following this year’s General Election, planned government legislation to give STPs a legal underpinning was shelved, and according to the Queen’s speech will now not be brought before parliament until at least 2019.
Currently, the Mid & South Essex Success Regime with its STP is a non-statutory and publicly unaccountable organisation.
The Report of the Chief Executive to this special meeting of the People Scrutiny Committee recommends giving authority to a tripartite, joint Health Scrutiny Committee, alongside Essex County Council and Thurrock Council . This will effectively dilute Southend Borough Council’s oversight powers of the Essex Success Regime and the local STP, instead delegating them to a committee that, in its Terms of Reference (ToR), appears to use a circular argument to largely justify its existence i.e. by agreeing to form this joint committee to scrutinise the STP on its footprint-wide basis, it will then – and only then, be necessary to consult a NHS body in tandem with other local authorities. (ToR 1. Legislative basis 1.2 & 1.3)
Can the relevant portfolio holder explain to me why the Council believes that relinquishing most of its scrutiny powers to an intrinsically undemocratic committee (ToR 3.1, 3.3 & 3.4), on such an important issue as the STP and the implementation of over £400 million of cuts in NHS health spending in our area, will be beneficial to the residents of Southend that the Council represent?”
Cllr Salter in reply:
“Thank you for your question Mr Fieldhouse about the Mid & South Essex Success Regime and STP and the report of the Chief Executive concerning the forming of a Joint Committee.
The legislation states that when an NHS body undertakes a consultation with more than one Local Authority on a proposal for a substantial development of the health service or substantial variation in the provision of such a service, those authorities are required to appoint a Joint Committee for the purpose of the consultation. An important point which I have noted in the draft terms of reference is that it is not proposed that the Council will delegate any of its power of referral to the Secretary of State.
As I explained in my answer to your question last year, I want a good health service for the people of Southend. The plans will be subject to full consultation ny NHS England on any proposals for service change. This will involve Scrutiny as well as oyher stakeholders.
As I understand it, the report is making a recommendation – it will be for the Scrutiny Committee members to consider this matter based on the information it has before it.
I do agree with your comment about the governance of the STP – it is one which has been commented on before.
This Council will only support proposals which lead to improvements in the health service in our area.”
Draft Terms of Reference (ToR) for Joint Scrutiny Committee are available here under Appendix 1 pp 9-11