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Free parking at the Conquest anyone?

November 19, 2008
column-picture2Some weeks more than others I am reminded of how politics can be a difficult balancing act between different and competing interests.
For example, on Thursday last week, I went to the fantastic ‘Let’s do business’ event organised by 1066 Enterprise.

‘Let’s do business’ was a welcome shot of confidence in the arm of the local economy. There was a great buzz at the Hastings Centre. Of the 131 local businesses represented, many of whom I spoke to, people were doing well for work and, whilst they were being careful due to the economic situation, were hopeful of being able to survive.

I spoke to a local design business getting a good portion of its work from the new contracts coming out of the Government’s drive to establish Academy schools.

East Sussex County Council is consulting at the moment on whether or not to replace the three Hastings secondary schools with two new academies.

Local Lib Dems are in favour of the continuation of the super-head model and against the Academies. Our main concern is the lack of accountability of the Academies model (if you want more detail, please contact me direct).

My conversation brought me face to face with the potential effects of policy decisions on the ground.

And then there was the news this week that there is a huge overspend at the Conquest. East Sussex Hospitals NHS Trust expect to have overspent by £12.4 million by the end of the financial year.

In the local press the overspend is attributed to a mixture of high energy bills, staff pay awards, and the ‘cost of bringing in a new contract for speciality doctors and associate specialists.’

This is at the same time as I received a letter from the Chair of ESHT, informing me that there would be no acceptance of our proposal for an initial two hour period of free parking at the hospital, prior to charging people on a pay-as-you-leave basis. The excuse given was that monies would have to be switched around in the budget to cover the costs of such a move.

Margaret Williams (the Lib Dem campaigner in Conquest ward) and I had challenged the Trust to follow the lead of Scotland and Wales who, this year, have abolished hospital parking charges and have committed to absorbing the costs.

We had also pointed out that (as again reported in the local press) one of their senior doctors, humiliated by the PCT maternity fiasco, was recently in receipt of hundreds of thousands of pounds in backpay. We could see that monies could be used more effectively…

[Please feel free to sign the petition above]

So here also is a political choice. Do we confront a medical profession whose overpaid senior doctors are beyond accountability as long as they are not dangerous, and in the form that many other professionals are held by their employer?

Do we invest in ‘specialist doctors’, or do we encourage a public health agenda by not charging people to come to hospital? The NHS in its original form – free at the point of delivery.

As someone who works with doctors day in day out, this is a subject close to my heart. And these are the conundrums of which politics is made.

The only way through the maze is to stick to your political principles.

That is why the Lib Dems under Nick Clegg and Vince Cable are sticking to our plans for kickstarting the economy – tax cuts for low and middle income families, paid for by increased green taxes and the closing of tax loopholes for the very rich.

It’s a tough political call, but it’s the fair thing to do.

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