Houchen bids for health and police powers

Tees Valley Mayor Ben Houchen is interested in taking a leading role in health and social care provision, to add to his existing powers, and discussed the possibility with former Health Secretary Matt Hancock, this website can reveal.

Under Houchen’s plan, he would chair a new integrated care system (ICS) to join up health and care services across the Tees Valley area.

He outlined his ideas for taking on extra responsibilities, including in health and policing, to MPs on the House of Commons Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee (PACAC).

He told that committee that Tees Valley Combined Authority (TVCA) had not developed to the point where it was ready to take on extra responsibilities yet, but that could change in two or three years as it matured.

‘I think there is something around health’ he told the committee. ‘It started after the election, so this has only happened in the last couple of months. I raised it with the Secretary of State at the time, Matt Hancock, to talk about the solution.’

He added:’ It depends…on what control you want a combined authority area to have over the local NHS. I think anybody out in the public would be very upset if I, as a metro mayor, all of a sudden was deciding on operational outcomes and decision making within a trust.

‘However, I think there is an ability and there is potentially an immediate solution to this, which is coming up through the NHS reform Bill—the integrated care system.

‘There is no reason why a combined authority area could not be a building block in the integrated care system in itself. Then you get the combined authorities into being potentially the holders of funding at a certain level. It then has direct responsibility up that hierarchy chain into the NHS and delivers more local accountability and local feed-in to our local health priorities.

‘I think there is a short-term solution, which means, to be fair, the system wouldn’t fall over tomorrow because all you would be doing is cutting and pasting the funding model into the ICS at a combined authority level. You could then develop that over time, so again you are not causing the system to fall over. ‘

POLICE AND CRIME COMMISSIONER

Pressed on how the idea would work, Houchen replied: ‘I do think because the ICSs work at different levels and go up, creating that hierarchical chain into the Department of Health and into the NHS, we could be an effective building block in that; so you don’t carve us out, you insert us into it. That is what I would say.

‘As part of that, the North East is a huge problem anyway because it has a North East and Cumbria proposed ICS at the moment, which is just bonkers. If you carved that down, there is no reason why you couldn’t have a Tees Valley ICS that is democratically accountable through the combined authority.

‘The chair could easily be the mayor and the directly elected mayor that would have to have an agenda on health, but it is not autonomous; it just then feeds into the wider ICS system.’

On the possibility of also taking over the role of Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC), Houchen said: ‘it makes sense for PCCs to be coterminous with mayoralties. That might have to be tweaked. We are not coterminous with Cleveland and that would have to see Darlington come in.

‘I know that Steve Rotheram [Mayor of Liverpool City Region] is [having] a similar conversation about reporting in the Liverpool City Region. But again, given the state of PCCs and how they are perceived in the public arena, it would make sense that they would form part of the powers of a mayor. It seems to work reasonably well in London, and in Manchester’.

Cleveland and County Durham (including Darlington) already have PCCs, elected only in May this year. In the case of Cleveland the post is held by a Conservative and in Durham by a Labour representative.