Labour councillors in South Gloucestershire say that a letter from one of the district’s Conservative MPs exposes the lack of influence of local backbenchers, as well as the unwillingness of Ministers to listen to them and local people.
This week members of the council’s Health Scrutiny Committee were forwarded a letter from Jack Lopresti requesting the council to contact his own Tory colleague, Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt, to ask him to look into health provision in the district. The Committee has referred matters relating to health provision up to Mr Hunt twice in the recent past, on services promised for Frenchay and Cossham Hospitals, and on both occasions he refused to intervene.
Labour’s Ian Scott (Filton ward), who chaired the committee until May, described Mr Lopresti’s intervention as “extraordinary”. He said:
“I find it extraordinary that a Conservative MP should be asking his local council to intervene with his colleague. You would have thought that Tory MPs would have access to their own Ministers and have the ability to bring some influence to bear on them. This letter seems to be an admission that they do not.
We already know that Mr Hunt does not listen even when we do refer decisions for his attention, as we have seen from previous incidents in the recent past when I was the chair.
When we asked Mr Hunt back in 2013 to block the NHS’s decision to downgrade plans for Frenchay and move its rehabilitation beds to Southmead he refused. When we asked him earlier this year to block plans to abandon the promise of a Minor Injury Unit based at Cossham Hospital again he refused.
This letter highlights the fact that local Conservative MPs have a poor track record in influencing their own government. They appear powerless as their Health Secretary is never willing to back the Council in standing up for South Gloucestershire’s health services.”