We know our political system is broken not just in Westminster but locally. Local election debates must address this so national parties can include solutions in future manifestos

My dental costs have doubled as a result of my dentist going private. Listening to staff on how ministers have treated the sector before and during the Pandemic, I can understand why – in the face of such shortages, some have either gone private or have quit the profession altogether.

If you’ve never emailed your MP before, now might be the time to start https://www.writetothem.com/ – tell them of your experiences and ask them to write to the ministers responsible on what the Government is going to do about the problem. See what the ministerial response looks like.

“What are residents in Cambridge saying?”

Accounting for all of the shortcomings associated with internet boards & pages generally, Local message boards are buzzing/fuming with the current situation – many commenting about how Cambridge is getting lots of new houses but not the community facilities and public services needed to sustain local communities. School places, doctors’ surgeries and dental practices come up frequently – the things that successive governments have taken outside of the control and influence of local councils.

With the fragmentation of public services since the 1980s, finding out who is responsible and who the decision makers are becomes a frustrating and time-consuming business. The debates on school places is my constant reminder of the little political bubble that I live in. It’s why I rarely comment on Prime Minister’s Questions because I have no idea how such things go down with people who don’t follow current affairs/political reporting, and who have little awareness of how Westminster & Whitehall function.

“Why can’t anyone find an NHS dentist?”
“Who are Healthwatch?”

Healthwatch England is a body established under the Health and Social Care Act 2012, which took effect in April 2013. Its role is to gather and champion the views of users of health and social care services, in order to identify improvements and influence providers’ plans.[1] The network is made of up of local groups in each of England’s local authority areas, and Healthwatch England, the national body.”

From their Wiki page

The one that covers Cambridge & county is Healthwatch Cambridgeshire.

“If you use GPs and hospitals, dentists, pharmacies, care homes or other support services in Cambridgeshire, we want to hear about your experiences. We are independent & have powers to make sure NHS leaders and other decision makers listen to local feedback and improve standards of care.”

Healthwatch Cambridgeshire – also on FB at https://www.facebook.com/HealthwatchCambsPboro
Local councillors know that our political system is broken – they get the blame for things that they have little control over.

I have no idea what the process is for establishing new health services in newbuild communities. And I’m someone who follows local democracy closely. I have some idea where to look beyond a basic internet search – vaguely aware of the Cambs & Peterboro’ Clinical Commissioning Group created by the controversial former Health Secretary & South Cambs MP Andrew Lansley, which many understandably said was a further step along the road to privatisation of healthcare. Note the controversy reappeared in the news just before Christmas with the Chancellor in the USA.

In one sense we’re lucky that Mayor Dr Nik Johnson who heads the Combined Authority for Cambs & Peterboro’ has in depth knowledge of NHS systems as a medic at Hinchingbrooke Hospital, and of local government as a former councillor on Huntingdon District Council for St Neots East. The problem is that structural changes require actions from ministers and Parliament. I can’t see those changes happening with the Conservatives in Government, and certainly not this side of a general election.

Fragmentation of services, high staff turnover, understaffing, and under-resourcing make it much harder to co-ordinate public service delivery – and make future planning and prevention all but impossible

In and around Cambridge we have all of these. Yet the solutions are not in the gift of local organisations (for all the rhetoric of localisation). Some of you may be interested in the paper by the IPPF on Decentralising Britain). Which makes a mockery of local elections and local campaigns.

“What’s the point in standing for election if you have so few powers to do anything?”

To force the conversations on issues you care about.

Amongst other things. You don’t actually have to win (as I found out with Puffles and manifesto in 2014) for the subsequent elected councillors to take up even just a handful of the points raised in the campaign.

What I hope we get with the Cambridge City Council elections in 2022 are some debates on changes to systems, structures, and processes that national government needs to deliver rather than bland promises of how one candidate will campaign/call for faster pothole repairs or better bin collections than another candidate. Because when you boil the debate down to its core, we’re still stuck with the same local council structures that were brought in back in the 1970s – and the same municipal/city boundaries from the 1930s. The residents of Orchard Park and East Cherry Hinton are outside of Cambridge’s municipal boundaries – so have to go all the way to Cambourne if they want to go to an in-person meeting even though Cambridge’s Guildhall is much closer & far more accessible by public transport to them.

What such debates might look like I’m open to suggestions – but ultimately I’d love to see them:

  • involve people who don’t normally get involved in local democracy
  • involve people online and offline (pandemic precautions accounted for)
  • involve representatives of employers, trade union branches & staff associations, and activity groups who don’t normally take part in such conversations
  • designed to facilitate multiple conversations rather than one person speaking at a time for three hours
  • have background reading materials for both light readers who only want the top lines, to heavy readers who want to get deep into the issues
  • cover both geographical areas that cross ward boundaries, as well as city-and-beyond groups of people with common interests
  • invite people to stay involved after the events, encouraging them to take one small one-off action [e.g. join an interest group / subscribe to a specialist publication of interest – even if it’s a local newspaper or something like Buses Magazine!] or a small but regular behaviour change [e.g. spend 30 mins every Sunday night browsing through the social media pages of the local councils

….and most importantly…>

…provide a means in which local political parties can incorporate some of the feedback into their future local and national policies.

Food for thought?

If you are interested in the longer term future of Cambridge, and on what happens at the local democracy meetings where decisions are made, feel free to:

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