Beecham pleads for bed-blocking reprieve

7 Nov 02
Sir Jeremy Beecham has made a last-ditch plea to the government to scrap plans to fine authorities deemed responsible for bed-blocking, in advance of next week's Queen's Speech.

08 November 2002

The chair of the Local Government Association urged ministers to abandon the controversial proposal, which is expected to be included in the legislative programme for next year as a stand-alone Bill. The government will unveil its plans for the 2002/03 session at the state opening of Parliament on November 13.

Beecham, like many senior local government figures, is bitterly opposed to the plan to force authorities to reimburse NHS trusts when elderly patients cannot be discharged because suitable care is not available.

There are widespread fears that it will lead to scarce resources being diverted away from other vulnerable groups, and poison relations between social services departments and hospitals.

'We are strongly opposed to the proposal to fine local authorities when a patient's discharge from hospital is delayed,' Beecham said.

'There is no single cause for delayed discharges and we are working with the NHS Confederation on an alternative solution that looks at the whole system and focuses on reducing the need for admission to hospital.'

The LGA has reservations about the planning reform Bill, which is widely expected to be brought forward next week. This will remove county councils' statutory role in planning decisions. Beecham said the LGA would fight to preserve their role. 'Counties are responsible for providing services with significant planning implications,' he said.

The LGA is, however, keenly anticipating the inclusion of the Local Government Bill in the speech after clear hints from Nick Raynsford, local government minister.

Senior figures are particularly pleased that ministers have recently dropped from the Bill plans to subsume business rates into the Revenue Support Grant. This last-minute reprieve keeps alive local government's long-cherished dream of regaining the power to set the business rate locally.

Beecham said it was 'essential' the Bill was brought forward if the government was to 'deliver on its promise' to give councils more freedoms and flexibilities.

English regionalism is also expected to be mentioned next week, although it is unclear whether provisions for referendums will be included in the Local Government Bill or introduced separately.

A spokeswoman from the Campaign for the English Regions said they were 'highly optimistic' that the Queen's Speech would include some form of legislation 'to enable referendums to be held on establishing elected regional authorities'.

Health Secretary Alan Milburn is also expected to bring forward a health Bill to set up foundation hospitals and the new health and social care inspection body.

Meanwhile, Home Secretary David Blunkett will almost certainly introduce a criminal justice Bill to reform the court system and give police powers for on-the-spot fines.

One piece of legislation guaranteed to go down well with the public is the Bill to relax the licensing laws and usher in an era of 24-hour pubs.


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