AMBULANCE SERVICES Avon's new top man weighs up merger option

Published: 03/02/2005, Volume II4, No. 5941 Page 8

The newly appointed chair of Avon Ambulance Service trust has insisted that the 'tough time' he faced as head of Cumbria county council will not hinder his ability to grasp 'serious performance issues' facing the zero-starred trust.

Louis Victory took up post last month, three weeks before Avon, Gloucestershire and Wiltshire strategic health authority agreed to commission an independent review of proposals which could see the full merger of the three ambulance trusts covering the patch.

The review will examine organisational changes to improve the performance of Avon Ambulance Service trust and Wiltshire Ambulance Service trust, both of which are zerostarred, by integrating them more closely with two-starred Gloucestershire Ambulance Service trust. It will compare two options - full merger or merger of management teams - with the status quo.

Gloucestershire county council overview and scrutiny committee member Joan Nash has already expressed fears that a merger would see Gloucestershire's performance dragged down.

Mr Victory is no stranger to controversy. He was chief executive of Cumbria county council for three years until February last year, during a period in which the council suffered a succession of blows, including a zero-star rating for social services and a 'weak' rating by the Audit Commission.

In 2002 he was criticised for accepting a 23 per cent pay rise to bring him in line with national comparators when staff had to take 3.5 per cent. A few months later the national salary awards gave him a 7.5 per cent rise, taking his salary to£134,000 and sparking union accusations that he was on 'fat cat pay'.

In March, Mr Victory will join a steering group of senior executives from ambulance trusts and the SHA running the review, which should make its views public by April.

Asked whether he expected previous 'fat cat' jibes to affect his relationship with unions in Avon, he said: 'Not at all.

I did have a very tough time with the unions in Cumbria, but I believe that people doing my sort of job have got to be able to set past problems aside.' And he said: 'I am aware that there are serious performance issues within the ambulance services in Avon, Gloucestershire and Wiltshire but at the same time I am very impressed with the people.'

Louis Victory defends his record

Mr Victory did not comment in detail on media coverage of his time as chief executive of Cumbria county council.

But he said his earnings then were 'totally irrelevant' to his new role: 'The main reason I am here is to see if I can do something to help the service do better than it is for the people of Avon.' He also defended his track record in Cumbria.

Mr Victory said the council was getting 'reasonable results' from a 'massive root and branch service improvement' programme, but that resources had had to be diverted to deal with the foot and mouth epidemic.

And he said the zerostar rating for social services was due to the 'very sudden and unexpected' release by the department of 'hidden and unreported problems that were so serious that the whole authority was affected'.