Letters

Paul Corrigan ('Here's looking at you, kid', pages 30-31, 8 February) gives a useful perspective on local government scrutiny. But he ignores some important restrictions on the proposed health scrutiny role, and glosses over particular flaws.

Local authorities have the power to nominate up to 12 elected councillors to community health councils - half the membership - although they do not choose to do so. The CHC scrutiny power extends to any aspect of the NHS they choose. To help them do this they have dedicated staff with specialist knowledge of the health service, as well as access to NHS managers and clinicians, to NHS decision-making through speaking observer status, and to patients' views.

All this is underpinned by a wide-ranging legal right to information. Under the Health and Social Care Bill, the secretary of state will restrict the areas of the NHS which the local authority may scrutinise, as well as the information which the NHS is required to provide to it, without consultation.

The local authority's power to refer major changes to the secretary of state will be subject to 'criteria' set by him without consultation; the power to refer reconfigurations will only be exercisable to a national reconfiguration panel with no democratic accountability to anyone. The power of scrutiny is shrinking as it transfers. No resources will be provided to discharge this responsibility.

Mr Corrigan's quotes about the party whip are somewhat selective. As the joint prelegislative committee on the Local Government Act noted:

'Whipping in scrutiny committees would reduce their effectiveness, but [we] are sceptical how far, without a fundamental change in the culture of local government, it will be possible to avoid it'. The truth is that the public will never know to what extent the party whip has influenced a particular scrutiny decision.

There is certainly merit in the new scrutiny of local government, and the role of community leadership is a fine ideal. But let there be no illusions about how much more limited councillors' role in health scrutiny will be than it could be currently.

Elizabeth Manero Chair London Health Link