At the Audit and Standards Committee at LDC on Thursday Councillor Alan White referred to the Francis Inquiry, he called it a “Review”, and, contrasting it to this Committee said:
“When a scrutiny committee didn’t know the right questions to ask and its defence was it didn’t know the right questions to ask. It doesn’t wash.”
I can only think he was referring to the Staffordshire Health Scrutiny Committee chaired by his fellow County and Lichfield District Council colleague, Janet Eagland.
On the 15th of May 2009 I wrote to the then Leader at the time asking him to replace her after she was interviewed.
I write to you because of the remarks given in evidence to the Mid Staffordshire Inquiry on the 25th January by Councillor Matthew Ellis. He was speaking about Health Scrutiny (though no one can remember him ever attending a meeting).
On page 27 of the transcript the Chairman, Robert Francis QC asks him: “So you don’t see a role for the leaders of the council, yourself included, collectively to ensure that what you would see as being the appropriate degree of challenge of outside bodies takes place, even if failing to do so affects the citizens you represent?”
Cllr Ellis replies: “At the end of the day, it’s the leader that appoints the individuals that lead scrutiny committees.”
A few lines later the Chairman says “I imagine that you would step in, collectively, and do something about that.”
Cllr Ellis replies: “I would certainly hope that the leader of the council would step in and do something about it, yes.”
And here I come to the reason for my letter. I am asking you to remove Councillor Janet Eagland from the Chair of the Health Scrutiny Committee following her evidence – or lack of it – at the same Inquiry on last Tuesday.
I am sure you will have read the transcript by now and like me, Cure the NHS and others have been appalled by her performance.
Besides the amnesia suffered by the Chair of the Health Scrutiny Committee resulting in her being unable to comment on anything at all under her responsibility there were two particularly shocking admissions.
The first, on page 70 of the transcript, is where she is asked by Mr Kark: “Do you get any of the data in relation to complaints at the moment?” To which Cllr Eagland says: “No.” and when pressed further on this issue says: “No, I haven’t, but it’s no – we could put it on our work programme.”
The second is just a few lines later in the transcript when the Chairman has to intervene because she says that (in relation to the current Chief Executive and Chairman of the hospital) that she hopes “we’re getting an honest and truthful answer.”
The Chairman says: “Mrs Eagland, I come back again, you’ve just told me that you now think that you were duped, your word, by the previous chief Executive and chair, and you’re telling us and the public that you now rely on people’s honesty.”
Cllr Eagland answers, “Yes”.
This is pursued by the Chairman who points out (on page 72) “But isn’t it a lesson to learn from that that it’s not enough to rely on what you’re told? If you have a duty of scrutiny, that it’s not enough to reply on what you’re told?”
I have to say that along with Stafford Borough Council’s Health Scrutiny witnesses the reputation of scrutiny in the County is now greatly damaged.
You will remember that under the Labour Administration Staffordshire County Council had a national reputation for good scrutiny practice. I, along with the excellent Scrutiny Managers we had at the council, were invited to take part in seminars and presentation at other local authorities and other organisations and conferences. This may have been because, contrary to what Cllr Ellis said in his evidence, Labour Party rules mean that the Scrutiny Chairs and Vice Chairs have to be elected by the Group as a whole.
In this case I agree with Cllr Ellis, and ask that you now take action for the sake of residents in the County and for the County’s reputation itself by removing the current Chair of health Scrutiny.
Finally you will recall that – admittedly in opposition – you, and your Deputy Leader, Ian Parry, said that the Chairs of the Scrutiny Committees should be held by opposition members and not by the controlling group. Will you now carry out that promise?
Cllr Steven Norman
She was replaced shortly afterwards. – but the Opposition was not given the Chair roles.