Our Policy Making Processes are Broken

Charles West has been a District Councillor, Parliamentary Candidate and Chair of local parties in Shropshire – this article was previously submitted to Lib Dem Voice who refused to publish it.

Fellow Liberal Democrats, our policy-making processes are broken. We are not as democratic as we would like to believe.

I have long been frustrated by the fact that we lack a coherent overall policy for health and the NHS. I now know at least some of the reasons for that failure. It was certainly not party policy to break up the NHS and replace it with a National Health Scheme.[i]

The first hurdle is to get Federal Policy Committee (FPC) to decide that we need a policy working group.

As an area that accounts for 18% of public expenditure and regularly comes among the top areas of public concern you might think that health is quite important. But no, alas, FPC decided to have a Public Services Working Group that would look at health, education, transport and other locally delivered services.

As someone with a life-time’s experience of the NHS both locally and nationally in General Practice, Management and Health Informatics, I have something to offer on the subject. As a councillor, parliamentary candidate and Local Party Chair I can also consider the political context. Despite not being on the original list produced by the Party leadership, I was appointed to the working group.

The problems of our wide brief were compounded by a very tight time-scale: we had in effect five months to produce a consultation document. Had we been set up to fail?

There are twenty-one members of the working group. Apart from the chair, I am the only member to have attended every meeting. Typically we have between six and twelve members attending. We are sometimes outnumbered by Special Advisers and policy analysts seconded from Price Waterhouse Coopers.

The chair of our group, FPC member Jeremy Hargreaves, decides on the agenda and the evidence givers. During the meeting I find that he is quicker to give his own opinion than to listen to those of others. He writes and approves the notes of meetings himself, which are erroneously referred to as minutes. And he has written the consultation paper. He has flagged up issues as important and persisted with them despite disagreement from members of the group and contrary evidence from witnesses. I have raised with him directly my concerns that this approach is not best practice, to no avail.

The remit of our working group included a requirement to “review the current legislation governing the provision of these services, including recent reforms to the NHS, and consider what changes to recommend.”

To focus our discussions I wrote a draft paper which I circulated in early October. Four meetings came and went while our chair prevaricated. Interestingly, other papers from members have been discussed within 24 hours of circulation. Finally, several members of the group supported me in my insistence that it should be discussed. At the last minute our chair arranged that Norman Lamb should come to the same meeting and present a different paper. When the notes of that meeting were circulated they contained no reference to my paper or any of its recommendations.

And so it is, fellow Liberal Democrats that you will be offered a consultation document at York that totally fails to address the most important issues facing the NHS and that neither reviews the Health and Social Care Act of 2012 nor recommends any changes. It does not even invite you to say whether you think that we should review these things.

Why is that? Some people do not want to rock the boat. They do not want to change anything. There are even some who think that it would be embarrassing if we came up with policies now that seemed out of line with legislation that our parliamentarians helped to pass while in coalition. If that is the case we might as well all join the Conservative Party and have done with it.

[i] These were policies advocated by Nick Clegg and David Laws in 2005 and 2004 respectively.

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7 comments on “Our Policy Making Processes are Broken
  1. D_ says:

    Little surprise. As a former member of the party, albeit briefly, I’d noticed the leadership had an uncanny ability to ignore inconvenient conference votes or prevent them happening in the first place. That is simply more of the same.

    Lib Dem internal democracy is much vaunted but largely theoretical and there’s a massive gulf between the leadership and the grassroots. Lib Dem Voice, for all its merits, tries to deny these issues exist and tends to take a loyalist stance which is likely why it refused to publish this. Its uncritical approach helps no-one and only harms the party in the long run.

    I hope you continue your efforts and that people like you can reverse the current Lib Dem slide into being just another Tory-lite party.

  2. Ed Mander says:

    The Lib Dems are not, in any way, Liberal. They are Tories in orange coats. Turn away and join The Liberal Party.

  3. For the record, as Lib Dem Voice has been brought into this, I thought it appropriate to publish the relevant parts of my email to Charles about his piece:

    “I am not sure that we can publish this as it currently stands. While you clearly have concerns about the way this group is carrying out its work, you make unsubstantiated allegations about people, particularly the conduct of the chair and the issue of initially being turned down because of your gender.

    You also don’t go into much detail on the substance of what’s missing. Would it not be more effective to write a different article focusing on what you feel is missing and asking those who agree with you to submit evidence along similar lines to the Consultation? How would you feel about reworking your article along those lines.

    It also strikes me that raising your concerns about the management with the group with elected members of the Federal Policy Committee would be appropriate.”

    Caron Lindsay

  4. And just to add on, if people think Lib Dem Voice takes a loyalist, uncritical line, I’d suggest that they read the stuff that Stephen Tall and I have written on, variously, immigration, welfare reform, party strategy, secret courts, go home vans and much more.

  5. E says:

    Hmm, well it’s not terribly helpful that the working group chair not only works in ‘performance management’ in the NHS, but believes 38 Degrees are overrun by leftist infiltrators on the basis that they campaigned to save Lewisham Hospital’s A&E and maternity services, and used to work for, er PWC I believe….

  6. Sadie says:

    Full marks for trying, Charles.
    Clearly health is a tricky topic, and not just since being in Government. I had a good view when the Party had a freestanding Health Working Group chaired partly by Kina Avebury and later by Martyn. We have got some decent policy but getting it was like pulling teeth. Sad that things have not changed.

  7. John Oakes says:

    Well, there are certainly some issues that need tackling here.And we may even have enough time to tackle them before the general election. Whether we do or not is probably down to personalities in the end since, as the writer suggests, the LibDem policy- formulation-and-implementation process does not appear to be clear, centralised and rigorous enough at the moment.

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