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Comment: PM's facile political stunt ignores the town's real concerns
It’s hard to fathom what makes the key marginal parliamentary seat Watford, which sits just outside London, such an attractive destination for political photo-opportunities.
Perhaps it’s our expanding retail offer? Or maybe our famous night time economy that entices so many of the political elite up the M1.
In the past 18 months, the town has played host to political notables such as Prime Minister David Cameron, Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg (twice), shadow chancellor Ed Balls, Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt, and Defence Secretary Philip Hammond.
Add in the smattering of more minor parliamentary dignitaries to have graced its environs in that time, such as International Development Secretary Justine Greening and Labour’s erstwhile campaign co-ordinator Tom Watson, and Watford looks an unusually well-trodden political thoroughfare.
The ostensible reason the town was chosen as the stage for this glitzy spectacle was because it already has its own “cycle hub” in operation.
But when you look at where the money of this much-heralded initiative is being spent, Watford is conspicuously absent.
According to Government, the lion’s share of the cash is being lavished on Manchester, Leeds, Birmingham, Newcastle and Bristol. Cambridge, Norwich and Oxford will also benefit to a lesser extent.
Seeing as Watford appears not to be benefiting from the largesse, this paper was keen to ask Mr Cameron about a few issues that actually impact on the lives of its readers.
Sadly, we didn’t get the chance; the PM only had time in his schedule to hobnob with sporting luminaries and gurn at cameras.
Top of our list was Watford General Hospital.
Last week, this paper reported the finances of the trust in charge of the hospital are slipping further into the red.
This spells trouble for the Watford health campus scheme, which aims to redevelop the hospital’s dilapidated infrastructure.
Key to the current plans is the hospital trust attaining foundation status, which would give it the financial independence needed participate in the scheme.
Last year it delayed its foundation status application and its current financial difficulties do not bode well for the project.
Anyone who has visited the hospital knows how desperately its buildings need replacing.
Last year, the trust admitted it had started using temporary cabins to house patients and earlier this year the trust’s chief executive, Samantha Jones, described its infrastructure as “unfit for purpose”.
The need for a new hospital is immediate and yet the time frame for the current rebuild project is up to two decades.
In 2006, Mr Cameron said his political priorities could be summed up in three letters – NHS.
I am sure the people of Watford would have liked to have heard from him how his Government plans to make sure they have the new hospital they desperately need.
Maybe next time he comes to Watford to use the town for a facile political stunt, he’ll find the time to tell us.
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