Roger Putnam writes in the Whitehaven News this week:
Roger PUTNAM Secretary, West Cumbria Liberal Democrats
Generally in these columns we address matters relevant to us all locally . However there are some current overarching national issues which will have a major impact here. These include the future of the NHS, at present in financial turmoil, and our future UK relationship with Europe. Both are matters which can only be determined nationally but will have far-reaching effects for us in Copeland.
It is clear that the NHS requires root and branch reform. The challenge is to maintain an equitable health system for all, integrated with provision of effective care. This problem becomes more difficult with a steadily ageing population and the wish to give “parity of treatment” for those with mental as well as physical difficulties. The situation is complicated by the fact that provision for social care is the responsibility of Local Authorities, currently suffering the toughest cuts to funding in my adult life time.
All major political parties agree that reform is needed. The NHS remains chronically under-funded. Only the Liberal Democrats have committed to a dedicated new tax to be ring-fenced for the NHS and for social care to take us through the present crisis. However, more funding is not by itself a long-term solution to the problem. For the future, we have to develop a new, fully-integrated health and care system. Lib Dems have actively supported a cross-party Health and Social Care Convention, ensuring long term stability of funding and resources to provide such an integrated system. This should make sensible provision for the special needs of areas like ours, where health and hospital resources are so stretched.
Part of the problem for the NHS, especially for staffing, is directly related to current uncertainty over our future UK relationship with Europe. It is astonishing that 12 months after triggering the move to leave the EU, the government position remains unclear and inconsistent. Senior ministers constantly give out contradictory messages. If we want to gain full control over our borders, we are bound to have to leave the single market, which ensures freedom of movement for capital, trade, services and employment across the EU. We cannot, as the Foreign Secretary seems still to think, “have our cake and eat it.”
It becomes ever clearer that we will pay a heavy price if we leave the EU, and especially if the UK withdraws completely from the Customs Union. The warning signs are many. They include recent comments by foreign car manufacturers about future investment; the future relationship between Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic; concerns about employment safeguards, environmental, health and safety standards. Even the most recent government figures show that any new trade arrangements with Europe will be substantially worse than those we enjoy now. The problems of the NHS will be even greater.
This is why Lib Dems continue to argue, unlike Labour and the Conservatives, that before making this irreversible decision the public as well as Parliament should be asked for their final judgement on the effects of this damaging step. It is only fair to do this. This decision will affect every one of us.