GIVEN the fragile state of NHS finances, the news that Yorkshire’s hospital trusts have shelled out nearly £40m over four years on leading accountancy firms will be a difficult pill for many people to swallow.
Analysis of the NHS’s contracts with ‘big four’ consultancy firms by The Yorkshire Post shows that £16.5m was spent by Mid-Yorkshire Hospitals NHS Trust, while five other trusts ran up bills of more than £2m.
In Mid-Yorkshire’s case, the trust handed £15m to Ernst & Young to help bosses cut a £37m annual deficit and it now emerges that just after the contract ended, it has paid out nearly £1.7m to another leading consultancy firm, Deloitte, to help it balance its books.
The trust said Ernst & Young, which won a national award for its work in Mid-Yorkshire, helped to “stabilise and improve the trust’s underlying financial position”. But there are issues here concerning transparency – what exactly did this money achieve and why was another firm brought in so soon afterwards to do a similar job? The fact that hospital trusts are relying so heavily on these firms also raises question marks about the quality of their own leadership.
Above all, though, this is a reminder of the underlying parlous state of our national health service. We have a situation where patients sometimes have to wait for hours in A&E for a bed to be found as hospital staff work flat-out to keep up with a surge in winter emergencies, yet at the same time millions of pounds is spent by trusts on accountancy firms to help them balance their books.
The pressures on NHS providers have been well documented as they contend with rising costs and an ever increasing demand on their services.
Surely, though, there has to be a better solution than spending vast sums on outside help in a bid to plug the financial gap when more extensive surgery is required.
Lords shake-up - Peer says it is time for reform
OVER the past century there have been several attempts to reform the House of Lords. Some politicians, like Labour’s Michael Foot, even wanted to scrap it altogether.
Previous attempts to create elected peers to Parliament’s second chamber failed to drum up enough support, but following a momentous 12 months that has seen a seismic shift in the axis of British politics the appetite for change at Westminster has been reinvigorated.
Lord Newby, who leads the Lib Dem group in the Upper House, is the latest senior figure calling for reform. He believes the present system has allowed peers from London and the South East to dominate proceedings and argues that the creation of an elected House of Lords would give regions like Yorkshire a stronger voice.
It’s a compelling argument and comes at a time when the Lords is under renewed scrutiny. Ministers, irked following series of successful attempts to block or overturn Government legislation, launched an inquiry into its jurisdiction last year. But after David Cameron was accused of “stuffing” the chamber with dozens of new Tory peers, government plans to curb its powers were dropped.
However, in a recent debate House of Lords members themselves, perhaps sensing the public desire for change, backed proposals for a reduction in its size.
With the indefatigable Betty Boothroyd, former Speaker of the Commons, among a growing band of political figures calling for the number of peers to be reduced, hasn’t the time come for a bloated House of Lords to properly reflect the people it represents?
Dry stone walling - Ancient craft is alive and well
The vast network of dry stone walls have become an integral part of the character of the Yorkshire the landscape which they weave their way across.
For centuries their instantly recognisable patterns have been a feature of some of our most famous countryside. But unlike so many ancient crafts and traditions that have long since died out, dry stone walling appears to be enjoying a resurgence as young people and families seek an escape from the daily grind.
There is much to be said for the allure of the countryside and learning a skill that harks back to a simpler way of life, and it is hugely encouraging that the Otley and Yorkshire Dales branch of the Dry Stone Walling Association, the largest in the country, has seen a steady increase in volunteers and people signing up for training courses.
The fact it’s not just older generations that are keen to get stuck in suggests the future of these cherished landmarks is in safe hands.