Whitehaven News column – 29th May 2014

Congratulations to everyone who voted for a directly elected Mayor for Copeland – the proposal was voted for by supporters of all local political parties and the vote in favour was by a large margin. In many ways – whichever side of the argument you found yourself on – the long campaign was a lost opportunity. The voices of those who wanted to discuss how we are governed locally, how this could be improved, what the major problems are with local government right across Cumbria and more were drowned out for the most part due to the particular nature of the campaign – but this is now the time for the community to come together.
I’ve written to Secretary of State for Local Government, Eric Pickles, asking for the Mayoral vote to be held on the same day as the next General Election; not in October as statute currently indicates it should be. Why? Because October elections ensure people stay at home in the cold and the dark, an election for our new Mayor in those conditions would hardly be good for our democratic process.
Spare a thought, too for Cllr Eilleen Eastwood, Copeland’s current (and newly installed) Mayor. Like her predecessors, she is representing the Borough with genuine dignity and purpose. Cllr Eastwood will be the last Copeland councilor to fill this role – a deserved honour following her many years in public service.
And let’s not take the momentum away from the need for a town council in Whitehaven. It’s this body that will make the difference in local government in Whitehaven (with the ability to raise money) and this must happen.
With the mayoral campaign out of the way, I hope the focus of the community can now return to more pressing issues that more materially affect our lives. For instance, the effect of government policy upon the West Cumberland Hospital. Did you know that the hospital couldn’t pay its electricity bill recently?  You read that correctly. The cumulative effect of government policy on the West Cumberland Hospital of late has been to force it to the edge of financial collapse. You could see this financial crash happening from outer space, that’s why I’ve repeatedly written to the Health Secretary calling for more resources and he has repeatedly refused until this crisis hit. What does it say about this government’s health policies that hospitals are driven to the edge of collapse before they receive the support they need?
Meanwhile the hospital Trust and the men and women who work within it are straining every sinew to keep the hospital and the services it provides together. Understaffed and underfunded, they are doing a remarkable job.

So I was pleased to be able to meet with Siobhan Gearing, local hospital campaigner, who has begun the process of bringing people together on social media to sign a petition to protect services at the West Cumberland Hospital. Siobhan’s agenda is very simple: she wants a better future for her children. We’re in the process of organizing a public meeting and a peaceful public demonstration to illustrate yet again what the hospital means to our community. Watch this space.
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