Letter of the Week
I write to give my reasons of conscience for resigning as an elected member of Dumfries and Galloway Health Board after 10 months of the two-year pilot.
It will have been clear for some time that I have been in conflict with other members of the Health Board, perhaps most notably over the holding of public surgeries. For some time, too, it has been clear that I have been a lone voice on many matters of local concern, except in the case of public surgeries where I was grateful to have the support of fellow elected member, Tommy Sloan, who also defended me from verbal attack on several occasions.
As a lone voice, it has proved impossible to affect decisions. At the most recent health board meeting on March 7th, I was the only member not to approve the following plans:
1./ Getting rid of 200 nurses while keeping all but onesenior manager.
2./ Via the Partnership Board between the NHS and the Council, cutting funding to elderly folks’ day-centres across the Region, from one year hence
3./ The ‘response’ to the clinical services consultation, a response which consisted of rehashing almost exactly the same plan as before, with different names to describe it, and a lot of spin, designed to cut the numbers of beds in our Community Hospitals down to a number where they cease to be viable. A pilot proposal which, very worryingly, will not have any independent external assessment at all.
So, these plans were nodded through by all other members, and will now be part of the Board’s strategy. I do not wish to continue drawing a salary to sit on a board which is committed to such plans, and particularly to the clinical services strategy, which downgrades community hospitals, the issue on which I was elected.
I do believe we will save them one day by standing together, communities and political parties united. If I am elected to Holyrood, I will continue to work for the retention and expansion of our very special hospitals. If I am not elected, I will continue to work as a community campaigner, and am in talks with various community members to set up a group to commission an independent study into the health board pilots. This would monitor the pilots and, additionally, take into account bed numbers and possible further services, such as dementia and minor injury units, to create a wider picture.
I feel sure that I will have more ability to change matters either from the Scottish Parliament or from a community action group than I have had as an elected member. This is a sad indictment of the way the elected member system has been abused by Dumfries and Galloway Health Board. The principle of having an elected members’ system, to allow communities’ voices to be better heard, is very sound. I understand that in Fife, the other region to have such an elected members pilot, it was agreed straightaway to allow elected members to hold surgeries, as a way of increasing engagement with communities. What does Dumfries and Galloway Health Board have to fear from similar engagement?
What do they have to fear from listening to our ideas? On a personal level, it was the rejection of my paper, “Saving Lives, Saving Money: A Hard Economic Study of the Soft Heart of our Communities, Our Community Hospitals”, based on medical research from Cumbria and around the world, showing that it is cheaper to retain and expand our community hospitals, that upset me the most while on the health board. The Board rejected this at a private Board meeting last year, and refused to allow it even to be discussed in the public Board meeting, despite my best efforts. It became clear to me then that I was likely to be one lone vote against the entrenched management, but I have persisted, doing what I can, until the final decision at this month’s meeting.
I will now be directing my efforts to retain our community hospitals from outwith the Health Board, with the very useful knowledge I have gained about their workings while on the inside. Echoing round my head are the words of our Chief Operating Officer: “Cottage hospitals are outdated. They are like operations on kitchen tables.” Against that I hear the thoughts of so many people who have approached me to tell me how much happier a relative of theirs had been spending their last moments in one of our small, local, hospitals, rather than in the big and so inevitably less personal central hospital. My resolve to protect our hospitals is now so strengthened that – literally – over my dead body will the health board ever close them. They are our region’s soul.
Former elected member, Dumfries and Galloway Health Board.
With reference to Chris Rollie’s letter concerning my diary piece on the situation regarding wildfowling at the Crook of Baldoon, I apologise unreservedly for not checking my facts as thoroughly as I normally would before putting pen to paper on this issue. I completely accept the figures and the facts given by Mr Rollie as being correct.
However the issue remains one of a lack of inclusiveness by RSPB with other interests when it comes to their plans for the future of this reserve. All I am seeking is that a genuine consultation with other interests, particularly wildfowling interests, be undertaken as I am convinced that a compromise solution can be reached that permits regulated wildfowling to continue to make its positive and significant contribution to the local economy during January and February without impeding the aims and aspirations of the RSPB in any way.
In trying to achieve that outcome, I will make sure I get my facts right in future!
The prospect of a wind farm being erected in Wigtown Bay was horrendous. Not only were we to be subjected to a visual vandalisation of a beautiful area, but the thought of having to live with the noise of the turbines was unbearable.
I offer my heartfelt thanks and gratitude to all members of ‘Keep Wigtown Bay Natural’ for their efforts and commitment. They were determined to safeguard the beauty of the bay and to dispense with ill-conceived ‘planning’.
Thank you ‘Keep Wigtown Bay Natural’ – we all owe you lots.
Norma E Whitton
31 Tonderghie Row
Isle of Whithorn
Can I applaud Mr Wlker’s letter about improving the availability of live music in Galloway. Maybe it’s a culture thing, but the Irish win hands down in this area, and have almost built their tourism package on it! Even in the south of England, informal music of all kinds (not only in pubs) has become the norm. There is money in it and it’s about time Galloway made a bit more effort - it’d be worth it for everyone
I would like to take this opportunity to thank everyone who gave money at Wigtown Road Service Station last week for Red Nose Day to raise funds for Comic Relief. The total raised was £257.53. Also the pick a pose scratchcard winner was James Stewart.
To raise funds for Breast Cancer The Moonwalk, a ceilidh was held in Carsluith Hall on Saturday night and raised an incredible £500. May we thank all who attended and contributed to the event, with special thanks to Tom Murray, Willie Lindsay, Garrocher Fruit &Veg, and Wyllie and Linda McCulloch for all their help.
From The Galloway Girls team (Jane, Una, Lisa, Eileen and Liz)
As part of the Council’s Administration, I’m getting used to vicious personal attacks from Dumfries and Galloway Labour Councillors. On this occasion however, I’m totally at a loss to understand why Cllr Nicholson has asked that I apologise to parents and classroom assistants.
It certainly can’t be for the 13 new schools this Administration has delivered on time and on budget; nor can it be that we have invested £150m in our school estate or that we have increased resources delivered directly to schools in each of the last three years. Neither can it be that we have seen a 40 per cent reduction in school exclusions and three of our schools in the top 30 attainment table for the country. And it certainly can’t be for the fact that 156 posts are about to be filled, 96 teaching posts and 60 trainee posts. No, it seems that what they want me to apologise for is attempting to reduce classroom assistant numbers to a formula agreed in 2006 when Labour Cllr Willie Scobie chaired the Education Committee.
When I seconded the Administration’s budget proposals in February, I made reference to the fact that no saving had been taken in respect of classroom assistants but requested a report from the Director of Schools Services outlining the process which needed to be followed in order to move to fair deployment of staff in line with the previously agreed formula; a historical deviation from formula had resulted in anomalies in certain parts of the region. The report to Education on Thursday was exactly that and the reason for its withdrawal was that the Labour Group questioned the status of my request. They argued that it did not form part of the budget motion and succeeded in getting the report withdrawn. Effectively, this meant that no discussion could take place at committee but they then had the audacity to blame me for not allowing debate!
Education has already seen a major reduction and slimming down of the management arrangements to contribute to savings, come in on budget and protect front line staff so, given the sheer scale of the savings we had to find for the 2011/12 budget, the fairest way forward was to ask all sectors to contribute to the cuts. Labour’s own budget included reductions in Additional Support for Learning and Primary Behaviour Support and they didn’t find fault in staffing our primary schools to an agreed formula, nor did they disagree with the budget saving to reduce secondary teacher numbers to the agreed formula. I’m at a loss to understand how they can then justify not implementing a formula for the allocation of classroom assistants agreed in 2006? Surely fairness and equity is an essential element that must be applied across all sectors, particularly when we are faced with having to find such massive savings.
I think the only apology I owe to parents, classroom assistants or anyone else affected by recent council cutbacks for that matter, is that this Administration has been forced to make these cuts as a result of historical overspends by the former Labour Government. We had no influence on that government, had no way of curbing its excesses and now find ourselves penalised as a result. Perhaps it’s Cllr Nicholson and the Labour Group who should be apologising for that.