Section 30 — Section 17C arrangements: persons with whom agreements can be made

Part of Tobacco and Primary Medical Services (Scotland) Bill: Stage 3 – in the Scottish Parliament at 3:45 pm on 27th January 2010.

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Photo of Helen Eadie Helen Eadie Labour 3:45 pm, 27th January 2010

At stage 2, the cabinet secretary said:

"I have sympathy with the motive behind Richard Simpson's amendments, they contain certain key terms such as 'community co-operative', 'social enterprise', 'not-for-profit basis' and, indeed, 'community' that are not defined anywhere in law. I take Helen Eadie's point that there are different forms of community co-operative, but the fact is that we are trying to pass legislation and need to provide a legal definition of such terms.

As I said earlier, I believe that the Government amendments provide a large proportion of the flexibility that members are looking for. If Richard Simpson agrees to withdraw amendment 74 and not move the others in this group, I will be happy to continue the discussion to see whether we can do anything more to close the gap between the Government's position and the views of committee members, certainly Labour committee members. I cannot give an absolute guarantee that we will be successful in that, but I am certainly willing to continue to discuss the matter and see what is possible."—[Official Report, Health and Sport Committee, 18 November 2009; c 2439.]

I waited until the last minute to lodge amendments, to see whether the cabinet secretary would do anything more to close the gap by lodging amendments. There is no evidence from her that there has been any further movement on the issue, so my amendments seek to address the shortcomings that were discussed at stage 2.

At that point, the principal issue from the perspective of the cabinet secretary, on behalf of the Government, was defining those who are eligible to hold a primary medical services contract. At stage 2, the cabinet secretary lodged amendments that expanded the definition to include any company, rather than only a company limited by shares. She said that that will allow many social enterprises, rather than only companies limited by shares, to hold such a contract, as long as they meet the other criteria that are set out in the bill, including that a medical practitioner, for a GMS contract, or a health professional, for a section 17C contract, be one member of the company.

The cabinet secretary informally consulted some voluntary sector representative bodies, which broadly welcomed her amendments. However, reservations have been expressed, and I have consulted further with colleagues in the world of community co-operatives and social enterprises, who welcome my amendments, which would put beyond doubt who would be eligible to establish the arrangements as they are envisaged.

My concern is that the cabinet secretary might unintentionally be opening a loophole by allowing any company to operate, which would provide for companies that do not have community benefit at their heart. At the heart of the matter is the question about what is to be done with the profits. Are they to be reinvested in the community or in the practice, or are they to be shared by the doctors themselves? If the amendments were to be agreed to, the phrase "a qualifying charity" would remove that dubiety by stating clearly that the profits would not return directly to any one individual but would be reinvested in the community and that, at dissolution, the assets would be shared within the charity sector and not be disposed of to any individuals.

During our visit to Kinloch Rannoch earlier this week, Health and Sport Committee members saw at first hand how a community co-operative can empower and address the concerns of remote and rural communities. The community co-operative or "qualifying charity" would employ an appropriately qualified medical team.

The danger of following the lead of the Scottish Government is that doing so will create the unintended consequence of permitting any sort of company to become involved, with a loophole being opened to the private sector that I do not believe represents the intention of Parliament, and which would have exactly the opposite outcome to that which is desired by the British Medical Association.

If Italy can show the way, with 7,000 social or community co-operatives, why do we not follow that approach in Scotland? The Friendly Societies Act 1992 was updated in 2003 to allow the appropriate medical team to serve on the governing body of the appropriate qualifying charity.

I hope that members will give credence to the establishment by the previous Labour Administration of Co-operative Development Scotland, and that they will strike a blow today in order to give a further green light to the establishment of health co-operatives in Scotland.

I say to Mary Scanlon, in the nicest possible way, that we need to test the Government on its assertions. With the changes that the Health and Sport Committee has made to the bill and those that the Parliament is making today, it will not only be the British Medical Association that will benefit from the eventual legislation. If we support my amendments and the Government's amendments, we will enable the wider community to benefit from the bill, and the work of the Health and Sport Committee and the Parliament will have been worth while.

I move amendment 36.