NOW to the politics after the pomp and pageantry of the Queen’s Speech in which Her Majesty read out the intended legislative programme of the first Conservative majority government in nearly 20 years. As expected, there was a liberal sprinkling of emblematic phrases, like ‘One Nation’ and ‘long term plan’, which symbolise David Cameron’s leadership.
The Prime Minister’s ambition cannot be faulted – he described this as “a clear programme for working people”. This was the first occasion in history when a Tory-led administration committed itself to achieving “full employment”; sustained economic growth, and initiatives to tackle the scourge of youth unemployment, remain critical to the difficult work looming large on public spending and, specifically, the next tranche of unspecified welfare cuts.
And it was certainly the only time that the words ‘Northern Powerhouse’ have been spoken by Her Majesty as Ministers signalled their determination to empower England’s biggest cities while devolving further powers of autonomy to Scotland. Again, this shows the extent to which Tory thinking has changed – the party belatedly recognises the untapped potential of regions like Yorkshire.
Mr Cameron is not shying away from controversy, in spite of his slender majority and the watering down of plans to repeal the Human Rights Act. It is now clear that Leeds and Sheffield will only receive full devolution if they follow Manchester’s lead and embrace “metro-mayors”, another term deliberately included in the Queen’s Speech, and the response of civic leaders in this region is now awaited with interest. Having opposed this concept, has their hand now been forced – or will the Government back down? Time will tell.
However, while the passage of up to 26 pieces of legislation will stretch Ministers to the limit, even more so given that the Tories do not enjoy a majority in the House of Lords, this Parliamentary session will also be a stern test of the Opposition parties. Labour needs to regroup, Lib Dem opposition already smacks of ‘sour grapes’ following the party’s role in the 2010-15 coalition and the Scottish Nationalists currently resemble a bunch of troublesome tourists.
It is also a timely opportunity for the pre-eminence of Parliament to be restored and the undignified tribal politics of the past to be consigned to history. Governments should only legislate when new laws will make a substantive difference to the country at large – Mr Cameron needs to guard against gimmickry – while the quality of proposals put before the House of Commons will be enhanced if the opposition is constructive, and the scrutiny process incisive.
The PM wants to put ‘working people’ first – and his Government will be ultimately judged by the effectiveness of its economic reforms. It cannot afford to let the country down. There is much still to do before the whole country can enjoy the prosperity envisaged by the Conservatives – and there are no Lib Dems to blame if Ministers fail to deliver. Over to you, David Cameron.
Where will NHS staff come from?
THE inclusion in the Queen’s Speech of the pledge to turn the NHS into a seven-day operation which delivers an excellent standard of care throughout the week and around the clock is a welcome restatement of the Government’s determination to effect a sea change for patients.
Yet such a priority stands starkly at odds with the latest cost-cutting exercises at local hospitals. Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust, for instance, is likely to be £40m in the red by the end of this financial year.
Involved in a three-year turnaround process, it has been told it must make savings of £67m, equivalent to around six per cent of its total budget.
The problem is that in order to deliver the improved service David Cameron is promising, the Trust needs to recruit more clinical staff rather than reduce their numbers. This, inevitably, costs money. Indeed, four in five of hospital Trusts in Yorkshire are in debt due to growing demand and the associated cost of recruiting more staff.
An ageing population has contributed to doctors carrying out a staggering 40 million more consultations a year compared to just seven years ago.
At the same time, replacements for retiring GPs are worryingly thin on the ground, while the nation’s hospitals have also become over-reliant on doctors and nurses from abroad.
Management efficiencies will only go so far in achieving the savings currently being demanded of this region’s hospitals. If David Cameron is serious about providing an NHS that is fit for the 21st century, then it is time for him to put our money where his mouth is.