MPs not singing from the same hymn sheet

WHAT a difference six years – and a new MP – makes!Back in 1999 when Felixstowe's Bartlet Hospital came under threat, the late Ipswich MP Jamie Cann was one of the first to leap to its defence.

WHAT a difference six years - and a new MP - makes!

Back in 1999 when Felixstowe's Bartlet Hospital came under threat, the late Ipswich MP Jamie Cann was one of the first to leap to its defence.

As The Evening Star launched its “Save the Bartlet” campaign, Mr Cann was one of the first to sign up. He was happy to act as our “agent” in Westminster, arranging meetings with health ministers including Secretary of State Frank Dobson.

He regarded it as a major triumph when Mr Dobson told us, and him: “Jamie, I won't let them close the Bartlet.”

Mr Cann's intervention caused a certain degree of irritation with his parliamentary neighbour John Gummer, who was also fighting to save the hospital - and who had never seen eye-to-eye with him before he was elected to parliament.

But that didn't stop the Ipswich MP. He always said the Bartlet was as important to his constituents as it was to those who lived in Felixstowe. He said it was important that Ipswich people who needed somewhere to convalesce after a serious operation should have the option of going to stay by the seaside with its expert nursing care.

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And he said it was important for his constituents that beds at Ipswich Hospital shouldn't be blocked by people who needed the kind of nursing care that could be provided in community hospitals like the Bartlet.

Now six years on, Ipswich has a different MP - although from the same political party. However on the subject of health care, Chris Mole's view could hardly be more different than that of his predecessor.

This week he told the Star that he didn't see the Bartlet as an issue for his constituents.

His voters get good care at Ipswich Hospital and community hospitals are not an issue for people in the town.

I'm not going to make any judgement about whether Mr Cann was right or Mr Mole is right - that's for the voters to decide.

What is certain, however, is that they cannot both be right!

I MET a delegation from the City of Ipswich in Queensland who were visiting our town the other day - and it was very interesting to hear how they do things down under.

Ipswich in Australia has a population of about 140,000. It is a similar size to our town - especially if you include our suburbs like Purdis Farm, Pinewood, Rushmere and Kesgrave which are really just extensions of the town.

But down under there aren't 61 elected council positions (48 borough and 13 county councillors) serving the community - there are just ten. And they are full-time, salaried positions. Being a councillor is not a hobby but a real job.

I was with council chief executive Jim Hehir as we heard about these differences between ourselves and the Aussie Ipswich. His eyes nearly popped out when he heard that his opposite number there only had to deal with ten elected members, even if they are in and around the council offices every day.

I've never been a great fan of amateur politicians trying to set the policies of major organisations with a multi-million pound budget. In my view they're either too incompetent to make the right decisions - or they're too dependent on the officers and end up impotent.

A smaller number of full-time councillors would have more time to get to grips with the way the council actually works and probably wouldn't cost much more than the current set-up with amateurs claiming allowances and expenses.

That already happens in London - but I'm not sure that I can foresee it happening in the rest of the country because full-time councillors would actually have power to do things.

And I can't see central government wanting to give local politicians any more power than they have at the moment.