Wednesday, 30 September 2009

Andy and Ben

I bet that Ben Bradshaw is glad right now that he was reshuffled out of the Health Department in June, given that the Health Secretary has announced today that car parking charges will be abolished in English hospitals, following the lead set by Wales and already followed by Scotland. If he was still at health, he might well have found today's speech by Andy Burnham to be a bit too much to swallow.

When Wales set the pace, Bradshaw claimed it would be at the expense of reducing waiting times.

When Scotland followed suit, he said that it was not a "sensible use of limited resources". He also seemed to be saying that it was not a decision which could be taken centrally, since "In England, hospital car parking charges are decided locally by individual trusts to cover the cost of running and maintaining a car park".

Twelve months on, and the English Health Minister declares to the Labour Party conference that it's not only possible; it's both desirable and a priority for use of resources. Amazing how an impending election concentrates the mind and enables objections to be overcome.

There's a wider lesson to be borne in mind as well. When a Labour Minister says that something can't be done, (s)he is not necessarily telling the whole truth.


Anonymous said...

still doesn't mean it's a bad policy. 'Free parking' mean less parking for patients with parking space taken up by visitors or even people who don't want to pay for parking in other places. It also means taking money which could go on patient care (or another WAG/Westminster dept) to go on a gimmick.

I think London Labour were right the first time round.

It's a bad policy. Will you pay people to catch a taxi or bus John. Get off your high moral horse and tell us where the budgets will cut?


John Dixon said...

Well, Masaryk, of course all money spent on one thing is money which can't be spent on something else. But to present anything you don't agree with as 'taking money from patient care' is misleading, and sounds more like sloganising than debate.

On that basis, there would be no public art, no support for heritage projects, no expenditure on a whole host of other things, all of which money could otherwise be invested in 'patient care'. You might think that right, of course; but I'd disagree.

"tell us where the budgets would be cut"

It disturbs me how rapidly the agenda of 'cuts' has come to dominate political debate as though large cuts, made quickly, to front line services are now inevitable. It owes more to the domination of the media by one particular segment of the political spectrum than to a rational debate. It's a subject to which I will return shortly in more detail, but at this stage I'll simply say that my priority would be to start by defending services rather than joining the clamour for cuts.

That means two things in the first instance from a Welsh perspective.

The first is cutting back on unnecessary UK expenditure on grand projects. Trident, supercarriers, and ID cards all immediately spring to mind as projects where significant savings can and should be made to UK budgets before starting to look at the budget allocated to Wales.

And the second is a fair funding formula for Wales - restoration of the lost millions from the application of the Barnett formula would do a lot to stave off cuts in front-line services.

Demanding that everyone says now exactly what they are going to cut is a pretty macho approach to politics - and assumes that we've already lost the debate on the two points above.

Anonymous said...

JOhn - you've dodged the issue. I don't want to see cuts to heritage and otherdepartments. But even if you don't agree with the 'cuts' agenda (which doesn't mean there isn't a need to curb spenind i.e. cut in real terms even if it only means no increase in budgets) then free parking does mean less money for some other project. Now, as you say, this money is quite small, but when Plaid refused to adequately fund the Byd then a million lost here and a million lost there adds up.

Trident, ID cards etc - yes, as a nationalist I agree with you. But there is still going to be less money about. Or, lets put it another way, there's going to be interest rates which the government will have to pay for getting us into this mess. If it doesn't pay that, they it's gets bigger every year. So, budget will be tighter than it's been for the last decade or so which means every department will have to be careful what it spends it's money on. No amount of scrapping Trident or ID cards will avoid this.

In this climate, does it really make sense to have 'free parking'? Big institutions bring in parking fees partly to raise money but also to free up space. The policy you advocate actually takes money from other budgets and also cloggs up parking space. So, yes, the likelyhood of someone desperate to park not finding a place will increase. Places will be taken by people who aren't patients nor even visitors. But hey, we can pretend this is all socialist policies and fareness. As I said, if Plaid can be so cavalier with losing some millions of pounds to hospitals it's ironic then that other 'heritage' 'national project, and infrastructure projects are under funded.

It's a bad policy. It's horrible populist bribes dressed up as 'socialism'. It does Plaid a disservice. As I said, when will you pay for my taxi fare to the hospital?


John Dixon said...

Not accepting the basic premise is not the same thing as dodging the issue.

I fully accept that money spent on abolishing parking charges (which were originally introduced only as a way of making up part of the NHS funding shortfall) costs money which could otherwise be spent on something else. That's an obvious truth which applies to every aspect of public expenditure at every time.

There is, however, a wider LabourTory paradigm around the size of the public sector, which needs to be challenged. The question "what will you cut?" is based on the assumption that the case for reducing the size and cost of the public sector is both proven and inevitable, and is tantamount to asking how I would implement someone else's agenda without first asking whether the agenda is the right one.