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The times we are working in now need a great deal of accelerated change and there must be no negotiating that down. So my mission statement for this part of my consultancy career is to be clear that there needs to be and will be a lot of change from the work that I do with individuals and organisations and if organisations don’t want that, then it is probably best to go somewhere else.

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It’s official! Competition panel to investigate Secretary of State for Health’s decision to impose his personal preference on NHS Commissioners

Filed Under (Creating public value, Primary Care Trusts, Secretary of State) by Paul on 07-01-2010

On December 18th I posted concerning the decision of ACEVO and private sector providers of health services to take a case to the NHS Cooperation and Competition Panel concerning the Secretary of State’s personal preference for NHS providers and his attempt to impose that preference on NHS Commissioners.

Today the unprecedented news came through that the Panel have decided that they can accept the case and are carrying out an investigation.

Whilst I have always argued that the Secretary of State’s intention to impose his own preference on the NHS commissioners was almost certainly breaking competition law, to actually see it happening is a bit startling.

The Guardian’s report today goes back to the original controversy and raises the issue of Andy Burnham’s isolation from his Cabinet colleagues.

“Burnham’s decision surprised cabinet colleagues and industry insiders alike, as it appeared to renege on a Labour 2005 manifesto pledge that the voluntary and community sector “should be considered on equal terms” as the NHS, and contradicted the efforts of other members of the cabinet who had in recent months been calling for an increased role for charities and non-state actors in the provision of public services.”

Guardian 06/01/2010

This now becomes more than an academic issue.

The competition panel has 30 working days to carry out its investigation. This takes us to February 18th. It is very unlikely that an election will be called before then so the investigation will be completed.

There is however another way for the investigation to be stopped and that could be by the Secretary of State changing the rules of the competition panel. He could decide to turn a panel that was meant to uphold competition law into a panel whose rules explicitly undermine competition. In that way he could have the panel finding on his side.

Of course this would all be rather public and lead to accusations of nobbling the referee, but that’s probably better than being found against by the panel your predecessor set up.

But the only way he can change the rules is with the agreement of his Cabinet colleagues. People such as Liam Byrne who, when he was in the Cabinet Office, argued for a level playing field for third sector organisations would have to agree rule changes that would undermine the third sector he has helped to set up.

Peter Mandelson as the business secretary would have to support changes in competition rules that would undermine the ability of business to provide services for the NHS.

It’s difficult to see the Secretary of State for Health’s cabinet colleagues moving so strongly against their own politics and achievements. So the fact that Andy Burnham didn’t check with his colleagues whether his personal preference was Government policy is now probably going to come back to bite him.


One Response to “It’s official! Competition panel to investigate Secretary of State for Health’s decision to impose his personal preference on NHS Commissioners”

  1. Should be an interesting few weeks Paul. Let’s hope cooler heads prevail. The next stop of course is Brussels if they don’t, a place the Secretary of State has no control, and where he might find they completely dismantle the NHS’s arsenal used to stifle competition by mandating the Secretary of State tenders all services. Should be an interesting month either way!

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