Ian Shires

Liberal Democrat Councillor for Willenhall North Ward, Liberal Democrat Group Leader, Walsall MBC Learn more

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Tensions rise at Health and Wellbeing Board meeting

by Ian Shires on 31 July, 2018

Tensions rose in line with the temperature outside at a steamy meeting of the Health and Wellbeing Board (H&WB) at Walsall Council House last week.

The focus of the increased tensions was a report innocently entitled “Health and Wellbeing Board – reflections and priorities”. At first glance the report seemed to be suggesting that the Board might want to be more focused on fewer targets. It was also suggesting increasing representation to include Housing, Dudley and Walsall Mental Health Trust and Walsall Hospital NHS Trust all of which have an impact on health and wellbeing across the borough.

The Conservative Chairman of the H & WB, Cllr Marco Longi took the opportunity to suggest that the Board consider rationalising the existing membership so as to not further increase the total membership. In other words, reduce the number of existing members. He pointed out for instance that Walsall Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) had four representatives.

Tensions rose when he refused to be drawn on whether or not he favoured reducing the number of opposition Councillors which currently stands at eight and based on political balance. Cllr Ian Robertson (Labour) touched on the subject first and was followed up by Cllr Ian Shires (Liberal Democrat) who asked the Chair, on what evidence had he based his suggestions? Indeed, was he suggesting the reduction in numbers should include the only group of people (Councillors) who are directly accountable to the residents of Walsall?

“I have researched ahead of the meeting evidence of H&WB good practice recognised across England and in almost all cases they benefit from strong political leadership. I don’t ever recall the need to call for votes on this Board in the past, elected members have challenged providers and added value to the work done by the Board”.

Speaking after the meeting Cllr Shires said that it would be good to take time out to review the workings of the Board and how the meetings are structured, but we need to keep focused on what we are here for. “Ultimately this is to work together as partners to ensure that we are doing all we can to address the stark life chances and health inequalities which exist in our town. The state of your health and your ultimate life expectancy should not be determined by your Post Code.”

The whole thing is a little bizarre. The Health and Wellbeing Strategy was only reviewed recently after wide consultation before being agreed following a report to the Full Council. It’s a fact, there are a number of priorities that the H&WB are working on, but then the task they have is big. The work that it does by its very nature is strategic and cuts across a number of agencies. The work of the Board is to oversee the Strategy, make sure it is on track. There are other bodies which deal with the detail. For the Conservatives to interfere at this stage in the process (it runs from 2017 to 2020) could put the whole Strategy at risk.

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