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Familiar Faces: Part 2
If Gary Coutts (ex-Edinburgh Labour councillor) is proving to be a more or less permanent fixture at NHS Highland, where his chairmanship has just been renewed for a third consecutive four-year term, there are others in McQuangoland with almost as much enduring appeal. Concentrating for the time being on NHS boards (heaven knows what I might find elsewhere), I bring you Andrew O Robertson, chairman of NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde.
Mr Robertson will be familiar to regular readers as the man who presided over the aborted Blawarthill development, which would have put St Margaret of Scotland Hospice out of business in favour of a scheme involving Southern Cross Healthcare. You will remember Southern Cross. Who could possibly forget them? They had a terrible record of looking after, or not looking after, old people in their care, and when the going was about to get not so good some of their top guys cashed in the chips and walked off with millions. Still our vigilant financial press failed to detect a smell. Right to the inglorious end, Southern Cross kept winning contracts from public authorities to 'care' for some of our most vulnerable people. Why? You'd better ask the NHS and their 'partners' in local government.
I will not rehearse in detail how SR tried to alert Mr Robertson – as well as the wider Scottish public – to our well-informed belief that Southern Cross was running out of dosh and most unlikely to be in a position to offer anybody a bed at Blawarthill. No attention was paid to these warnings. All too soon our direst predictions came true: Southern Cross went belly-up, taking the Blawarthill project with it.
At one stage I suggested that Greater Glasgow and Clyde might be better off with a new chairman: fresh start and all that. Naturally what has happened is that, in recognition of his outstanding work, Andrew O Robertson has been reappointed chairman for another four years at the going rate of £39,936 a year: a contract worth a tidy £160,000.
It will surprise no-one who knows how public appointments in Scotland operate that he has been succeeded by a recently retired local authority chief exec rather than by someone outside the familiar loop.
It's not all doom and gloom. Ian Mullen, the man who brought Larbert its PFI hospital, just before the SNP government sensibly decreed that PFI schemes are a gigantic waste of public money, has finally stood down as chairman of NHS Forth Valley, having been appointed in – wait for it – 2002. Ten years on, the Larbert robots who do the dirty work that humans used to do will be Mr Mullen's legacy, until someone decides that, actually, it might be an idea to employ humans instead. It will surprise no-one who knows how public appointments in Scotland operate that he has been succeeded by a recently retired local authority chief exec rather than by someone outside the familiar loop. Still, it's a new face, if an old one.
Current developments at NHS Fife are mystifying. Professor James McGoldrick, chairman since 2004, has had a one-year extension to his contract taking him to April 2013. Why not a four-year appointment of someone else? Do the patients of Fife not deserve better than this feeble extemporising? There is no explanation in the press release. There never is.
At NHS Grampian the position is less reassuring still. Last August, the chairman, Dr David Cameron, having been suspended from the Food Standards Agency, decided to take temporary leave from the health board too. He did not return. But rather than embark on a search for a bright new face – are there any women out there? – the Scottish Government settled for Bill Howatson, a safe pair of hands in McQuangoland, who also happens to be provost of Aberdeenshire. Councillor Howatson promises us 'exciting times'. If they are more exciting than the events of the last eight months at NHS Grampian, he will be doing well. Or badly, depending on your point of view about excitement.
Need I mention NHS Ayrshire and Arran? It is only a week since we reported the damning indictment of that board by the Scottish information commissioner Kevin Dunion. Some of the deckchairs in sunny Ayr have been hurriedly re-arranged as a result.
Nothing ever changes, however, at NHS Lanarkshire, which wins a special award for sterility. Here is a list of the ministerial appointees with their date of appointment:
Neena Mahal, 2004; Terence Currie, 2004; David Clark, 2005; John Anning, 2005; Kenneth Corsar, 2005; Sandra Smith, 2006.
To summarise: there has been no new blood at NHS Lanarkshire – nor the least hint of a transfusion – for six, repeat six, years. When the last of this lot took office, Labour was still in power at Holyrood.
Can anything be done about the disgraceful state of affairs in McQuangoland? I have an idea; I don't know if it will do any good, but here it is anyway. Every time a vacancy is advertised – it's always done very discreetly, of course – I will make sure that it is posted here too. I invite readers to apply for posts for which they consider themselves qualified, and let me know how they get on.
Go on. Stir it.
Click here for Familiar Faces: Part 1
Kenneth Roy is editor of the Scottish Review