A cash-strapped health trust is spending what has been described as an “obscene” £350,000 to relocate offices of its management and other services.
Hartlepool MP Iain Wright says the cash for the “flashy” offices at the town’s hospital could have been better used keeping two hospital-based nurseries open for at least 18 months.
The repositioning of the rooms at the University Hospital of Hartlepool comes at a time when services are being stripped away and shifted to the University Hospital of North Tees, in Stockton.
But bosses at North Tees and Hartlepool NHS Foundation trust, which is £1.25m in deficit, say the move is part of centralising remaining services in the main tower block of the Holdforth Road site and will save £550,000 on running costs.
A disgruntled trust worker told the Mail that a number of offices, including a chief executive’s office with en-suite toilet, chairman’s office, a boardroom and administration offices, were being created at the town site on what was Ward 5, on the third floor.
It comes as a consultation is underway to close the day nurseries at the two hospitals, which have lost £764,000 in four years, with around 50 jobs at risk.
Union chiefs have slammed the move as “obscene”, especially in light of the proposed axing of the nurseries.
Hartlepool MP Iain Wright said:
“The idea that £350,000 is being spent, speaking as an accountant, I can’t see where the savings are going to be made.
“£350,000 could keep the nurseries at Hartlepool and North Tees open for another 18 months.
“You have got a spending priority at a time when the NHS is starved of funds, and it wouldn’t be flashy offices.”
The worker, who did not wish to be named, said the relocation work included the stripping out of oxygen tubes from the ward’s former use.
Work to fit carpets in the offices was carried out on a Bank Holiday, but the trust says this did not incur any extra costs.
The worker said:
“I can’t understand why Alan Foster is putting an office suite and other rooms in while they are talking about closing Hartlepool hospital.
“And he is trying to close the nurseries at the two hospitals, yet he has built these new offices.”
Unison area organiser Mark Edmundson said:
“At a time when the trust is proposing to close two nurseries that provide essential childcare for trust staff and the local community and also make people redundant, the cost of these offices is simply obscene.
“Unison urges the trust to look again at the nursery closure; perhaps fewer new offices for the highest-paid executives at the trust would enable this lifeline for hard-working people to remain open.”
Alex Cunningham, MP for Stockton North, which includes North Tees, said:
“I am very surprised that the trust would spend such huge amounts of money on offices at a time when they are contemplating cuts to things like nursery provision.
“If they are able to make savings of half a million pounds as a result, that’s money that could be directly invested in the nursery provision, which could be expanded, if there is a will to do that.”
The trust’s associated director of estates and facilities Peter Mitchell said:
“Work is continuing to ensure we make best use of the buildings and space at the University Hospital of Hartlepool.
“The plan is to bring in as many services as possible into the main hospital building to improve security and quality.
“Services which have been occupied in the Hart Building including office space, meeting rooms, wheelchair services, ICT, the sewing room, medical records and domestic services are being moved into a space formerly used as wards in the main hospital building.
“The costs associated with the space utilisation work is £350,000. It is estimated that by moving these services and closing the Hart Building, the trust will save around £550,000 – money to be put back into patient care.”
The trust says the toilet associated with Mr Foster’s office was already there.
Source – Hartlepool Mail, 07 Oct 2014
Liberal Democrats have been accused of “unbelievable hypocrisy” after they announced they want effectively to axe the bedroom tax.
The change of heart follows a vote at last year’s Liberal Democrat party conference when delegates backed a motion proposed by North East activist Julie Pörksen which condemned the policy for “discriminating against the most vulnerable in society”.
Mrs Pörksen, who is set to be the party’s candidate in Berwick, Northumberland, next year, welcomed the Lib Dem announcement, saying: “The whole premise behind the policy was flawed.”
But as recently as February, the party’s MPs failed to back calls led by a North East Labour MP to axe the bedroom tax.
Wansbeck MP Ian Lavery proposed legislation to end the policy, but just five Liberal Democrat out of 56 voted for it.
The recent u-turn came after a paper produced by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) – but published on the same day David Cameron conducted a high-profile Government reshuffle – highlighted the hardship caused by the policy.
Mr Lavery said: “I’m completely lost for words. Is it any wonder that the public question the honesty and integrity of politicians and the political parties?
“This is obscene electioneering from a party whose credibility has vanished. The Liberal Democrats supported the bedroom tax with equal passion as the Tories – it’s a matter of public record.
“They failed to support my 10 minute rule bill, which highlighted all the problems they now wish to raise.”
And Newcastle East’s Labour MP Nick Brown said: “It’s completely hypocritical. If they hadn’t supported the Tory government in the first place then this misery wouldn’t have been inflicted on public sector tenants.”
Known officially as the removal of the spare room subsidy, the ‘bedroom tax’ involves cutting housing benefit by 14% for many tenants in council or housing association properties if they are considered to have a spare bedroom, or by 25% if they have two or more spare bedrooms.
Officially, the goal was to encourage them to move into smaller properties.
But the DWP paper reveals that only 4.5% of households affected in the North East have managed to find a smaller council or housing association property to move into.
Others had simply been forced to pay the extra rent. The paper said: “57% of claimants reported cutting back on what they deemed household essentials and 35% on non-essentials in order to pay their shortfall.
“A quarter of claimants (26%) said they had borrowed money, mostly from family and friends (21% of all claimants); 3% had borrowed on a credit card and 3% taken payday loans.”
Despite this, only four out of ten households affected had managed to keep up with their rent – while the rest went into arrears.
The new Liberal Democrat policy is to cut benefits only for people who are actually offered a smaller home and refuse to move, which means the cut is simply axed for the overwhelming majority of people currently affected.
But despite being part of the Coalition government, it remains to be seen whether Liberal Democrats will succeed in actually changing Government policy.
Mrs Pörksen said: “Liberal Democrat ministers now need to persuade the Tories to agree with them and bring some humanity back into the welfare state.”
Source – Newcastle Evening Chronicle, 20 July 2014