Tory group ‘split’ over social care ‘divorce’ row

Last-minute efforts to revive a collapsed deal between NHS and local authority bosses have prompted claims of splits among Northumberland’s ruling Conservatives.

Thursday, 19th August 2021, 5:32 pm
'Divorce' proceedings between Northumbria Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust (NHCFT), which runs The Northumbria hospital, left, and Northumberland County Council, based at County Hall, Morpeth, right, over social care services are due to culminate at the end of September.

Northumberland County Council (NCC) is preparing to take social care responsibilities back in-house from October, when a 10-year-old deal with Northumbria Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust (NHCFT) is due to expire.

The trust announced in February it planned to walk away from the partnership, before a late U-turn earlier this month saw it request negotiations resume.

But while the county council’s leadership believe the time for talk has passed and are preparing for life after the contract, some senior Tories have attempted to force them to reconsider.

Independent councillor Georgina Hill called it an “odd situation”.

Addressing NCC’s Health and Wellbeing Overview and Scrutiny Committee, she said: “It’s quite possibly unprecedented that a group of Conservatives have called in the decision of the ruling Conservative cabinet. It seems that this group of people who have called this in seem to be batting for the trust and they seem to be wanting to take the trust’s side and that is concerning to me.”

The ‘call-in’, a procedure under the council’s constitution which allows councillors to request a decision is formally debated, was triggered by Peter Jackson, a former leader of the council, and backed by five other Conservative councillors and one independent.

Coun Jackson said he had a “moral duty” to question whether partnership with the trust was being ended on the basis of ‘incomplete information’, including a claim, disputed by council bosses, that the change could add £2.5million a year on to costs.

However, Glen Sanderson, the leader of the county council since September last year, insisted he had opted to stop talks, despite attempts by NHCFT to restart negotiations, to end the “prolonged agony” of the situation. He was backed by Richard Dodd, a former deputy leader of the local authority, who added he would be carrying out his own probe into the process.

And while Labour councillors voted to end the current social care partnership, the party was scathing about the debate.

A spokesman for the opposition group said: “This was an odd situation where Conservatives used the call-in process on themselves. Needless to say, the call-in failed [and they] made fools of themselves, meanwhile staff and councillor time [has been] wasted.”