Good to talk if you have an agenda

I FEEL I owe a few people a very public apology. A couple of weeks ago I helped publicise a meeting of Stevenage Borough Council which was to have a special item on the future of local healthcare where local people could have their say. Sure enough, last

I FEEL I owe a few people a very public apology.

A couple of weeks ago I helped publicise a meeting of Stevenage Borough Council which was to have a special item on the future of local healthcare where local people could have their say.

Sure enough, last Wednesday, a number of members of the public turned up to Daneshill House, as did I.

I want to apologise because I'm pretty sure the people who did turn up must have felt the meeting was a big a waste of time as I did.


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Instead of a healthy debate, what we got was an excruciatingly tedious hour-and-a-half of politicking and attacking the local press.

Two members of the public who had gone along to have their say left before they got the chance because they had booked taxis to get home as they had expected to be able to speak much earlier on.

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The 'motion' which was debated essentially went along the lines of this: the Borough Council regrets that the new hospital is not going to be built at Hatfield, but it urges the relevant authorities to make more effective use of reshaped existing facilities.

The motion also said that the council wants the healthcare trusts to work with other organisations to address inequalities in levels of health and healthcare provision.

Unsurprisingly, after the 'debate', this motion was passed, because it's not really contentious, is it?

Who was actually going to stand up and say, hold on, I don't agree, I don't want the better facilities?

A few councillors did make some good points to the guest speakers, who were representatives of the local health trusts, but the rest just stood up and expressed much the same sentiments as the motion.

Along the way, they kept hammering home the message that Labour had done good things for the NHS, and a number of them - more worryingly - used the time to have a pop at The Comet.

I would invite anyone who has serious concerns about the way we approach stories to speak to us directly, rather than air lofty, vague criticisms at the paper at a meeting when we are not able to respond.

We were accused of handling stories about the local NHS "appallingly" by Cllr David Cullen.

Given that all we've done is report the facts as they stand at any given moment in time, I would suggest he look at the organisation of the NHS locally and nationally to see what is appalling.

Newspapers are the eyes and ears of the public.

If we didn't report the current issues, dissemination of information would be incredibly difficult.

We'll shut up, shall we? Never mention the situation of Lister Hospital again?

And then, if acute care moves to the QEII in Welwyn Garden City, we'll put a note in the paper telling you it's happened, and you'll just have to deal with it.

Would that be OK?

Another complaint levelled against us, this time by Cllr John Gardner, is that the owners of The Comet have an agenda which we here in Stevenage are forced to follow.

I would be interested to discuss the evidence on which he bases this bizarre assumption.

In the meantime, let me reassure him that decisions about what to print in our paper are made by the team who write it and put it together in Stevenage.

Our editorial is independent and free from influence or bias. He may not always agree with what we say but we do our best to reflect and represent the views of our readers.

It seems ironic that a Labour councillor, in a Labour-dominated council which had just missed the opportunity to discuss honestly the state of the NHS under a Labour government, should be lecturing me about agendas.

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