Wigan council labelled '˜spineless and cowardly'

The outgoing chairman of a Wigan health watchdog has launched a withering attack on the town hall after losing out on a new contract.

Thursday, 22nd September 2016, 9:40 am
Updated Tuesday, 4th October 2016, 1:58 pm
Paul Carroll

Responsibility for the borough’s Healthwatch function was awarded to Bolton last month in a move said to “provide extra value for money.”

But on his last day in charge of the current organisation, Paul Carroll has hit out at the decision made by “spineless and cowardly” Wigan Council.

The acting chairman said he is not just disappointed in not winning the contract but “angry at the way the council has behaved towards us.”

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In an explosive letter addressed to the town hall’s director of health and social care, Stuart Cowley, Mr Carroll says he has reason to believe Bolton’s contract was more expensive, casting doubt on the council’s statement it would provide value for money.

He questions the interview process and accuses the council of providing a negative reference which contradicted previous positive descriptions of their work.

The letter reads: “It seems, for reasons known only to you, that you really, really did not want us to win this contract.

“It is such a shame that as a direct result of the behaviour of the council Healthwatch is losing an excellent chief executive and several volunteer directors, myself included, who had so much to offer.

“Meanwhile, the new HW Wigan will take months to be established which cannot possibly be in the interests of the people of Wigan.”

The letter reveals that Mr Carroll’s organisation came third out of the three bidders for the contract, a result that raises serious questions given its success and level of national recognition in recent years.

“From the outset we were suspicious there may be ulterior motives at play,” the letter adds.

Wigan Council would not be drawn on the claims the bid from Bolton will prove to be more expensive.

A statement from chief executive Donna Hall, said: “Wigan Council is passionately committed to working with local people to improve health and social care services across the borough.

“We understand we need the very best Healthwatch offer to make this happen. For this reason we undertook a fair tender exercise to test out different applicants and achieve the best results for Wigan people.

“Healthwatch Bolton won the contract and we are excited about the creativity and strong leadership of the new provider and the expertise and energy they are bringing to Wigan. They have already listened to local people and renamed the service ‘Wigan and Leigh Healthwatch’ to make sure everyone feels included and represented.

“From tomorrow Wigan and Leigh Healthwatch will make sure local people have a real voice in reforming and improving health and social care.

“We would like to recognise the hard work of the current provider and thank all of the staff, trustees and volunteers for their contribution over the past three years.”

Healthwatch teams, established by the government as bodies of independent scrutiny in 2013, conduct spot checks and inspections of facilities such as hospitals, clinics and care homes.

Today marks the last day for the current organisation with responsibility transferred to Bolton from tomorrow.

In his letter, which has also been sent to council leader Lord Smith and the borough’s three MPs, Mr Carroll makes clear he is not criticising Healthwatch Bolton and wished his counterparts the best of luck in taking over the contract. He added he was speaking out now “we have achieved the most important task of securing the futures of our staff” who will be transferred across to the new regime.

However, several directors have resigned from the board as a result of the council’s decision.

Mr Carroll added: “It is because of the way the council has behaved towards us that I have decided to share this with a wider audience so that the public is aware of the spineless and cowardly local authority that is serving them.

“The council was not obliged to tender the Healthwatch contract. The council could have negotiated a new contract with us, especially given our understanding of our good performance, or, given the outcome, asked us to consider a joint bid with another organisation.”