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Therefore, the community hospital tariff seems to be off the Government’s agenda.

As for extending Payment by Results to the community hospital sector, the Secretary of State said in her letter to me last week, dated 18 July:

What an answer that is! Why should the community hospitals and PCTs be the Oliver Twists of the national health service, reduced to going out begging local providers for income so that they can return their beds to use? The situation is grossly unfair and unreasonable.

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I put it to the Minister, and through him to the Secretary of State, that the position of community hospitals throughout the country is unacceptable. My two hospitals in Tonbridge and Edenbridge ask reasonably and justifiably, with my full support, why 80 years of private donation, effort, fundraising and excellent community care should risk being swept away by the bulldozer as a result of the Secretary of State’s mismanagement of NHS finances. That is the central question.

I say to the Minister that the Secretary of State must address the revenue issues. She must provide an assured source of revenue for the community sector, as for the acute hospital sector. Until that happens, there will not be the assured future for community hospitals in this country that, in Edenbridge and Tonbridge and up and down the country, they deserve and need.

4.31 pm

Mr. Iain Wright (Hartlepool) (Lab): I want to use this opportunity to talk about how my constituency of Hartlepool is looking forward with ambition to the 21st century by learning from the experience of the town’s economic growth in the 19th century.

This year marks the 200th anniversary of the birth of the man who is universally seen as the founder of west Hartlepool, Ralph Ward Jackson. It was Ward Jackson arguably more than any other individual who had a vision and saw the potential of an underdeveloped area. He also, in 1868, became the town’s first Member of Parliament. Ward Jackson primary school has been undertaking research on his life this year. That included a visit to the House, and I pay tribute to the school’s hard work.

The school found that Ward Jackson was not a regular parliamentary attender. Indeed, the only contribution that he appears to have made is a vehement objection to the publishing of parliamentary proceedings. But although not a strong parliamentarian, he had a strong vision for the town. In a letter to The Times in September 1863, he described the scene on the land between old Hartlepool and Seaton Carew. He wrote:

Following a slow and gradual decline in the fortunes of the area in the 18th century, the nobility and gentry of the north of England stayed for the summer months in what Robert Wood, in his history of west Hartlepool, described as

But there was very little enterprise, industry or ambition.

Ward Jackson saw that if he was able to transport coal from the Durham mines to the London markets faster and more cheaply than the relatively new Stockton to Darlington railway, he could make a fortune. He believed that that was possible through the geographical advantage that the Hartlepool coastline gave him: a quick turnaround of ships in the docks made west
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Hartlepool the most competitive port in the region. As well as coal, nearby iron ore from the Cleveland hills was soon transported via the new Hartlepool port. Shipbuilding yards, engineering plants and other associated businesses were soon set up.

The economic and industrial growth of the town was phenomenal. Within 20 years, west Hartlepool had grown to be the fourth largest port in the United Kingdom for foreign merchandise exports, just behind Liverpool, London and Hull. By the outbreak of the first world war, one eighteenth of the British shipping fleet, in terms of tonnage, had been launched from or was owned by Hartlepool yards. That was at a time when the British fleet was bigger than the rest of the world’s fleets put together. How on earth was it done? I think that the best analysis comes from Ward Jackson himself. In his 1863 letter to The Times, he wrote:

I am a lover of history and I believe that the study of the past can teach us some pertinent lessons for the future. For much of the 20th century, Hartlepool has been in decline. The traditional industries that Ward Jackson helped to introduce have become obsolete and Hartlepool has spent the last few decades coming to terms with the social and economic repercussions of that decline. We are still dealing with low productivity and economic inactivity and levels of enterprise and innovation that are too low.

Given the challenges and opportunities of the new century, however, I believe that my town can have as bright a future as the one that faced my Victorian predecessors. That will be achieved by embracing Ward Jackson’s principle of providing a comprehensive, professional and positive environment in which to start and grow businesses, promote skills and improve the quality of life.

The world economy is forecast to grow by about 80 per cent. by 2020. Globalisation—the interconnectivity and free movement of trade, people, capital and information—will occur at a faster rate than ever before. The greatest benefits of globalisation will accrue to those cities, regions and countries that can access and adopt new technologies. The manner in which those technologies can be integrated and applied will be crucial to a region’s prospects for prosperity.

Globalisation means that people, particularly those with the highest skills, will be wanted throughout the world and, given the ease of technology and communication, can be located anywhere in the world. The challenge for cities and regions will be to ensure that the infrastructure and environment of their particular area—their sense of place—are conducive to creating a modern, creative, diverse and innovative place to live, work, raise children and relax, so that talented and ambitious workers will be attracted and will wish to stay.

The expanding global economy will, quite literally, fuel an unprecedented demand for raw materials, particularly energy. It is estimated that total energy demand will rise by about 50 per cent. in the years to
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2020, compared with 34 per cent. for the period 1980 to 2000. Growing demand from China, India and Brazil, in addition to continuing demand from the US and in conjunction with increasing political volatility in the middle east, will help to keep oil prices high. Pressure is rightly growing to use more renewable sources of energy, so these trends will also mean that regions that help to capture and refine the energy will become increasingly important.

Hartlepool and the wider Tees valley will play a large part in the world’s modern energy sector. There is the rise of biofuels and the hydrogen economy being developed at Seal Sands, and oil and gas-related activities provided by Heerema Hartlepool, which include project design, engineering, construction and commissioning of offshore oil and gas installations. Heerema has just completed the Buzzard project for Nexen Petroleum and has embarked on its next project, the construction of a Britannia satellite platform. My constituency also has Corus pipe mills, a truly global and first-class firm providing the highest quality products made in Hartlepool to assist in the extraction and distribution of energy throughout the world. I have no doubt that by 2020 Hartlepool will be synonymous globally with energy production excellence.

I mentioned that in the period before Ward Jackson and the emerging manufacturing industry, Hartlepool was becoming something of a tourist attraction and I think that in the 21st century we can have both: we can have a modern manufacturing industrial sector, providing high-value jobs, coupled with a reputation for being an excellent tourist destination. Our coastline is breathtaking, our marine facilities are world class and the recent decision on a direct rail link between London and Hartlepool will provide a fresh boost to the town’s economy.

In the last month or so, the town has been awarded the tall ships event for 2010. That is on a par for my town with Liverpool’s being city of culture for 2008 and London’s winning of the Olympics for 2012. Credit must be given to Hartlepool borough council’s economic development team, which worked hard to get the tall ships to Hartlepool. The challenge, as with Liverpool and London, is to ensure that the event provides a legacy that will embed Hartlepool’s reputation for quality, professionalism and friendliness.

Ralph Ward Jackson saw the economic and commercial benefits that could be realised from Hartlepool’s distinct physical features. He established a modern infrastructure that was conducive to enterprise, to starting and growing a business and to attracting and retaining highly skilled workers. He, more than most, was acutely aware of the importance of that sense of place. In the 21st century, Hartlepool needs to adopt its founder’s model again.

4.39 pm

Angela Browning (Tiverton and Honiton) (Con): I should like to draw attention this afternoon to the way in which public sector contracts are written, implemented and managed and their impact on my constituents. Whether we are dealing with a service contract—for example, for hospital ward cleaning—or a procurement contract for something such as military helicopters, if the contracts are not drawn up, monitored and implemented properly, it has a huge impact on the services or goods that are ultimately provided.

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In the past few weeks, I have to deal with the contracts drawn up by the NHS as part of the change in the way that people in the community are provided with oxygen cylinders. Previously, oxygen cylinders were provided through pharmacies and GP practices, usually at 24 hours’ notice. Many people of all ages rely on those cylinders at home. However, the Government have decided to cut out the middle man, and Air Products Ltd now has the contract, under which it was meant to provide the cylinders, guaranteeing delivery at three days’ notice; but that is not happening and the impact on some very seriously ill people and their carers is quite profound.

For example, I know of a two-and-a-half-year-old with a very serious heart condition who needs 24-hour coverage with oxygen cylinders. The parents became quite desperate because they could not get access to a delivery within three days. Equally, I know of cases of elderly people who have not been able to get hold of cylinders in time and were frequently promised, day after day, that they would get them on a certain day, including at weekends, but they did not come.

I have been in touch with Air Products. I should have thought that, if the Government wanted to change the system from pharmacies and GP practices supplying the cylinders, they would have got all their ducks in a row and the contract would have been put in place and seen to be working before they made the switch, but that is not the case. One of my constituents was told by the head of the medicines, pharmacy and industry business unit—whatever that is—at the Department of Health:


When I looked into this, I found all sorts of problems. Cylinders are still with pharmacies. There are problems with people stockpiling things because they are in short supply, which, in itself, creates a shortage. There are also problems with people answering the phones at Air Products Ltd, and I was told that those problems are caused by the fact that so many people are ringing the company that it is having to train staff, who are not yet trained, and until they are trained, they cannot answer the phone in a timely way. I put that to the test to find out how long it took my office to get someone to answer the phone, and it took nearly 15 minutes.

We see those problems right across the public sector. I am also concerned not just about the Government’s management of that contract, but about the change in Devon to adult services, particularly those for the elderly and people with learning disabilities. The contracts are about to be turned over to the people who supply the services. I asked the question, “Please will you get the services in place before you make the change?” However, throughout the public sector, there seems to be a lack of skill and understanding about the commissioning and negotiation of contracts and about how to make sure that, if a supplier does not fulfil a contract, the sort of things that should be written into the contract are implemented to ensure that the goods and services are delivered on time. It seems prevalent across the public
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sector that people are let down and that people who seriously need goods and services, such as my constituents, are put in such a position purely because the public sector does not seem to understand procurement or how to write a proper public service contract.

Mr. Andrew Turner (Isle of Wight) (Con): Does my hon. Friend agree that that is one of the reasons why stoma patients are so concerned about the future of their services? They have a perfectly good service at the moment, but it appears to be undergoing the same transformation as has happened to the oxygen service.

Angela Browning: My hon. Friend is right, and anyone who has ever been involved in procurement or writing service contracts, whether in the public or the private sector, knows that there are some pretty rudimentary rules to follow in getting things in place before making any change. To leave it and see what happens and then decide to train people and change the contract is a back-to-front way of going about this.

I wish to raise another matter. At the beginning of the Iraq war, many Members started receiving representations from constituents whose relatives were serving in the armed forces. The then Secretary of State said that it was the wrong time and place to make complaints and draw to public attention concerns about the equipment provided to our armed services. I know that there are wars going on around the world—and I must say in response to the comments of the hon. Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Joan Ruddock) that although I do not agree with the views that were expressed on Trident, I do agree with the analysis of the situation in Lebanon and the middle east—but what I am about to say must be said.

Many of my constituents who have close relatives serving in the armed forces are genuinely worried not only about overstretch and various other issues that we have recently aired in this Chamber, but about the fact that people serving in the armed forces are increasingly having to buy privately basic pieces of kit and equipment that, frankly, should be provided, and the fact that, in respect of kit procured by the Ministry of Defence, it should be procured in keeping with a set of benchmarks and standards that we would expect to be met.

We have increasing numbers of such debates in this House. Our armed forces serve in new theatres of war around the globe, and it is incumbent upon us—as a nation and as a Parliament—to know about these matters and to be able to reassure relatives, some of whose families have given generations of service to the armed forces, so they know what the implications of service are, that the kit is the best that we can possibly afford and that it is reliable. However, I have grave reservations in respect of both small personal kit and some of the larger procurement contracts that the MOD negotiates.

I was reminded of that at the weekend. There is a family in my constituency whose son is serving in the armed forces. That family has a long history of serving this country. I felt that if such a family express concern about the provision for their son, we in this place should take such comments very seriously indeed. The issue is not only about the practicalities of the way in which contracts are negotiated; it is also about knowing, when we ask people in our armed forces to
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carry out their duties, that from the centre—whichever party is in power—we enable them, through their equipment, to maximise their protection and their confidence in the job that we ask them to do.

That links in with my theme today, which is that public sector contracts should be negotiated in a correct and proper manner, and that that should be implemented not only in respect of the public sector contracts that I have mentioned such as those to do with oxygen cylinders, but particularly in terms of the services and goods that are provided to those serving in our armed forces.

4.38 pm

Mr. Michael Wills (North Swindon) (Lab): It is a privilege to follow the hon. Member for Tiverton and Honiton (Angela Browning), whom I congratulate on raising with characteristic eloquence the case involving Air Products. I, too, have constituents who have suffered as a result of that company, although I must say that I was somewhat surprised that she seemed more inclined to blame for the shambles the Government’s procurement policies than the company itself, where the responsibility must surely primarily lie.

On past occasions when I have been fortunate enough to be able to speak in debates such as this, I have tended to use the opportunity to urge Swindon borough council to make much needed improvements in their performance, but on this occasion I want to start differently—I want to celebrate something. This year is the 200th anniversary of the birth not only Ralph Ward Jackson of Hartlepool, but of the founder of modern Swindon, Isambard Kingdom Brunel. In 1840, his 21-year-old lieutenant, Daniel Gooch, wrote to him recommending the small hilltop market town of Swindon as the site for the Great Western Railway’s new engine works, saying:

I must say that those of my constituents who have recently suffered—and those who have suffered for many years—from the neglect of Thames Water and the regular flooding of their homes with sewage because that utility company will not make the necessary investment to prevent that from happening—despite making £350 million in profit last year—might well take the view that not much has changed in Swindon since 1840.

For more than 100 years, the railway works flourished under the stewardship of great engineers such as Churchward, Collett and Hawksworth, whose names live on not just in Swindon street names, but in a tradition of engineering excellence and innovation. Those who visit the steam museum in Swindon—I recommend that all Members of this House and every member of the public visit this fascinating and excellent world-class museum—can see this tradition exemplified in a display board of carriage-door locks. It shows that those engineers were never content and were constantly refining and improving their production, driven, above all, by pride in their craft. That is a lesson for successful businesses everywhere.

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