... But with eight abstentions, the proposal was voted through!
For the first time in many years, I left an Ottery Town Council meeting in pure frustration last night, at councillors arguing against the creation of a working group to help secure the future of Ottery St Mary Hospital.
A straightforward and uncontroversial proposal… or at least, so I thought!
A few weeks ago, I met with Cllr Geoff Pratt (EDDC ward member for Ottery Rural and Ottery Town Councillor), Margaret Hall (retired GP and chair of West Hill Parish Council), Elli Pang (Ottery Town Councillor and chair of the local Health and Care Team Forum) and her colleague, Leigh Edwards.
We discussed the risks facing Ottery St Mary Hospital and the risk of it being sold off for development by NHS Property Services – and how we might move things forward in a productive way.
Currently the hospital is less than 40 per cent occupied and a whopping £200,000 a year rent must be paid to the company, which is wholly owned by the Secretary of State for Health. The rent is mostly covered by NHS England at the moment, with some paid by the Royal Devon & Exeter Hospital, which runs the services there.
Cllr Pang said at this meeting and at the town council meeting last night that it was difficult to make progress on this for a number of reasons, namely trying unsuccessfully to engage key stakeholders and also having the clout to deal with NHS Property Services, which is well known for the aggressive way it deals with its tenants rents, often increasing the rent suddenly and significantly, without apparently caring whether or not the tenant can actually pay.
At the end of our meeting we agreed to ask Ottery Town Council to agree to setting up a working group specifically to move things forward, which would have the advantage of being part of a legally constituted body and one where other people from other areas could be invited onto it.
I am not a member of Ottery Town Council, I attend as the Devon County Councillor and to give my report. I asked to contribute to the debate, however, as the subject of the hospital is close to my heart and I have spent many years working to try and protect it and prevent the loss of beds.
As one councillor after another spoke it was clear, apart from Cllrs Geoff Pratt and Roger Giles, that the others were opposed to the working group being created.
Various spurious reasons were cited for being against the working group, including:
-There was already a working group set up (there was not)
-It would be better for such a group to be independent from the town council (no, it would have more clout and relevance to be part of the town council)
-It was duplication (no, it was building on the work of the Health and Care Team Forum)
-It might close down the Health and Care Team Forum (it would not)
-Our proposal was unclear (it was perfectly clear)
-We were insulting the Health and Care Team Forum (no one did this)
After trying to reason with the town council, and then hear several of them speak afterwards as though I had said nothing, I felt my frustrations boil over.
I couldn’t bear to hear any more utter nonsense on the subject, so I prepared to leave before the vote took place, as I could see which way it was going.
Before I left I told them that there was absolutely no reason whatsoever that the town council should not support the proposal and if Ottery Hospital was sold off to developers in a few years time, that each and every town councillor who voted against the proposal would need to examine their consciences.
After I left Cllr Giles asked for a recorded vote so that the minutes listed the way each councillor voted. This proposal was voted down.
I was informed later that after about an HOUR of debate, the vote took place. The councillors who objected to the working group all abstained, apparently on the assumption that their abstentions would result in the failure of the proposal. Instead the vote was carried with eight abstentions and three votes in favour. This was met with much disbelief.
Several councillors then asked that it be recorded in the minutes that they abstained because the proposal was unclear.
On the way out I slammed the glass door, which I am told this morning, resulted in the glass fracturing. This is regrettable.
I have agreed to reimburse the council for the replacement glass, which will need to be in instalments.
A councillor (I am not clear who as the message was relayed by the clerk) has demanded I apologise for “storming out of the meeting.”
My reply was: “I will apologise when those town councillors who sought to obstruct the safeguarding of Ottery Hospital by arguing against setting up the working group and abstaining in the vote, apologise to the residents of Ottery.”
I now look forward to the first meeting and getting on with trying to safeguard our hospital.
Voting in favour of the working group were: Roger Giles, Geoff Pratt and Peter Faithfull.
Those abstaining were: Anne Edwards, Elli Pang, Paul Bartlett, Ian Holmes, Josefina Gori, Lyn Harding, Paul Carter and Glyn Dobson.
NB. Cllr Elli Pang has since contacted me to say she felt unable to vote because she had an interest as the Chair of Ottery’s Health and Care Team Forum.
NBB. My own website won’t allow me to post a comment in response to the comments below! So I would just like to say a huge thank you for the very kind offer of contributing to the cost of the repair of the glass/door but I can’t accept it. Thank you so much though for your kindness.
Ottery St Mary