UNTIL now, the most notable historical event to have taken place on March 29 – the day Theresa May intends to invoke Brexit’s Article 50 – was the Battle of Towton in 1461 when Edward, Duke of York, became King following largest and bloodiest battle ever fought on English soil.
Yet next Wednesday is likely to be remembered as ‘Divorce Day’ – the moment in history when this liberated country started to extricate itself from the clutches of the over-domineering European Union. For Theresa May, and the EU, it promises to be a political battle, and war of words, like no other.
Though Mrs May has, out of respect, chosen not to trigger Article 50 prior to events this weekend to mark the 60th anniversary of the Treaty of Rome, the precursor to the EU, the Prime Minister is, to her credit, sticking to the timetable that she set out to the Tory conference last October. She had no choice – failure to do so would have undermined confidence in not just her authority, but her ability to preside over Britain’s exit from the EU.
It’s also encouraging that she intends to use the coming days to travel around the United Kingdom to ascertain the views of business and regional leaders, and it is to be hoped that her itinerary includes time for a long-overdue visit – her first as PM – to Yorkshire. Every part of the country needs to be engaged with a process which will determine Britain’s future economic trajectory for a generation and the continuing existence of the United Kingdom.
And while Mrs May will have no shortage of advice in the coming days, she needs to be totally clear on her primary objective – putting in place an immigration policy that works for Britain without compromising those businesses who say their future success depends on tariff-free access to the single market. In short, the PM has less than 10 days to finalise the plan that will define her place in history.
What a waste
THERE is something fundamentally wrong when the NHS, arguably the most management top-heavy organisation in the country, is spending tens of millions on outside consultants.
Individual trusts, together with Leeds-based NHS England, the Department of Health and other agencies, would not be so dependent on such advice if existing executives – already extremely well-remunerated – provided the level of leadership, and expertise, expected of them.
It does not matter whether these consultants are used for guidance on budget management or the proposed closure of A&E units; this is money that the National Health Service can ill-afford to waste.
What is most galling, however, is the profligate manner in which consultants from the major accountancy firms are recruited. Health bosses do not appear to be ascertaining whether they could obtain the necessary support from within the public sector for gratis.
Secondly, these firms are looking at issues, like A&E, provision in isolation and solely from the perspective of their client. It does not appear they’re providing a sufficient overview on the ramifications for the wider region. Furthermore, there’s also nothing to stop these consultants having multiple contracts with neighbouring trusts.
Though there will be occasions when outside assistance is required, this should be as a last resort. After all, what the public want – and expect – is more doctors, nurses and paramedics. They don’t want management ‘whizz kids’ conducting PowerPoint presentations and the like when they have not one iota of an idea about the NHS’s daily needs.
ONCE again, it would be churlish not to acknowledge the pragmatism of Parliament’s select committees who contribute so much wisdom to the policy-making process.
With four committees now investigating pollution, their findings will be far more comprehensive – this is one of those issues that transcends multiple Whitehall departments and agencies.
The regret is that the Government is unable to act strategically because officials are unable to think outside the box. Though the most polluting vehicles will, for example, be banned from Leeds city centre in time, far more radical measures are likely to be required – Sadiq Khan, the Mayor of London, is looking at pioneering measures to curtail the ‘school run’.
If the study announced today can pull together health, transport and environment policy, it will have made a good start. After all, rising pollution translates to greater pressure on hospital beds and so on.