Berwick MP accused of scaremongering on health funding

Steven Mason is the accountable officer for the county council and the CCG.
Steven Mason is the accountable officer for the county council and the CCG.

Northumberland County Council has reacted angrily to accusations from Berwick MP Anne-Marie Trevelyan of health funding potentially being ‘driven towards’ the south-east of the county.

In her regular email briefing to constituents, My Week in Westminster, Mrs Trevelyan referred to her speech on the inpatient ward at Rothbury Community Hospital before talking more generally about the Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG).

The Tory MP wrote: ‘We have a hill to climb to persuade the CCG to back our vision for palliative, respite and recuperative care on site, and I am concerned by the fact that financial control has now moved to the chief executive of Northumberland County Council. This worries me since the Labour council has been systematically driving funds towards the south-east of the county for other matters and I am fearful that now they have control of the health funds they may try to do the same.’

The county council wants to make it clear that, while the council’s chief executive, Steven Mason, is the accountable officer for both the council and the CCG, the roles are completely separate, as are the respective budgets. He is responsible for reporting CCG finance matters to NHS England and not the county council.

Legally, councillors are not allowed representation on the CCG, which is a clinically-led organisation with an independent chairman and a governing body.

Coun Susan Dungworth, cabinet member for adult care and public health at Northumberland County Council, said: “Anne-Marie Trevelyan’s statement shows a worrying lack of understanding of the structure, budgets and decision-making within the CCG. We do not control this budget. In fact, there are absolutely no councillors directly involved in the CCG’s decisions. These are just scaremongering accusations to try to score political points.”

On allegations that the council had been driving funds to the south-east of Northumberland, Coun Dungworth added: “It is clear to all that we have been investing right across the county. Our market towns initiative alone has seen major investment to help revitalise nine towns including Alnwick, Berwick, Morpeth, Ponteland and Hexham.

“Despite continued reduction in funding from central government, the council has committed to continue investing across Northumberland through its £381million capital programme over the next year. The programme aims to improve the lives of everyone who lives and works in the county and includes proposed investment in new schools and leisure centres, infrastructure improvements and increased parking provision.”

In response, Mrs Trevelyan said: “Mr Steven Mason, the chief executive of Northumberland County Council is now the accounting officer of NHS Northumberland Clinical Commissioning Group – meaning the council is now responsible for signing off and commissioning clinical care across Northumberland.

“A number of constituents have expressed their concerns to me that the council’s spending focus is on the urban south of the county and they are worried this will also be reflected in spending decisions over local healthcare provision.

“I have written to the Mr Mason, to ask him to confirm the council’s health spending priorities. I am particularly concerned to ensure that spending commitments made to the new Berwick Infirmary are honoured and that the CCG is able to secure a long-term sustainable future for Rothbury Community Hospital. I very much look forward to receiving Mr Mason’s reply.”