Wednesday, 4 April 2012

Baroness who ran private business interests from Lord Office positions her company to gain from NHS reforms


Baroness Cumberlege, one of the 141 peers exposed as having financial links to companies involved in private healthcare put her company into a position whereby it could make money from the reforms as she debated them in the House of Lords.

The former health secretary-turned-peer set up an organisation called  Cumberlege Connections, which runs training programmes across the NHS spectrum for consultants, GPs, NHS managers, Directors and chief executives. In addition to this service, part of their training programme covers ‘Politics, Power and Persuasion, a tailored two-day programme which includes topics such as: ‘Managing the markets, the challenges of commissioning’, ‘who’s who’, and ‘brokering deals with other independent sector providers’. The last programme is delivered by the Baroness herself.

These are useful services, which enabled her company to become a partner in the PwC Alliance, set up to bid for contracts to develop the new Clinical Commissioning Groups.

One of elements of the bill is the transition of commissioning responsibilities from Primary Care Trusts to local Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs), which could eventually lead to these groups being in charge of the £65 billion NHS funding.  

The transition process has already begun in earnest, with some CCGs already in existence. It is here where the private sector have already been making money out of changes, even before the bill became law, which was on the 27th of March 2012.

In order to get GP groups into a position whereby they can commission properly, a national framework needed to be followed.

The framework is split into 4 separate areas called Lots. Each Lot has a series of ‘approved providers’, and falls into these categories:

Lot 1 - Setting up and leading a high performing Clinical Commissioning Group,

Lot 2 - Working collaboratively and across boundaries – promoting partnership working

Lot 3 - Managing and influencing local and national politics

Lot 4 – Engaging and leading colleagues in primary care through distributed leadership - ensuring that the organisation is clinically led

When any CCG wants assistance in any of the above categories, they must invite all the companies listed under each ‘Lot’ category to make a bid. PwC Alliance, of which Baroness Cumberlege’s company is a part, is listed in all four groups. Some of the other companies involved include: McKinsey & Co, Deloitte and Capita, and KPMG partnership, all financially benefitting from the restructuring of the NHS.

In short, Baroness Cumberlege and her company are in a position to make money from a bill in which she has voted in favour. This she certainly did, voting loyally with the coalition on every division on the Health and Social Care bill.

So what sort of money is being made? Well, according to Chair of the Royal College of GPs, Dr Clare Gerada, quite a lot. She told the leading General Practice magazine Pulse:
'Most of the resources for commissioning development went into the coffers of big private consultancies such as KPMG. In London alone £7 million of funding has gone into those companies.' The highest-earning firms were: PricewaterhouseCoopers (PWC) (£1.61m), KPMG (£1.47m) and McKinsey & Co (£1.27m).

So is the Baroness making money out of the restructuring? It would appear so. In an updated report released in January this year, NHS Barnet announced that the NHS Harrow Clinical Commissioning board had chosen PWC Alliance for their organisational development. Minutes of a meeting held by the Lincolnshire GP commissioning Executive Committee confirms the Lincolnshire South-West Executive Team had met with PwC Alliance regarding the ‘future working and Governance’ arrangements for the CCG. A further contract for the PwC Alliance is revealed in the minutes of the Havering Clinical Commissioning Committee’s Chairman’s report, which involved the merger with the NHS outer North-East London cluster and states the PwC Alliance had been commissioned to undertake ‘their organisational baseline assessment,’ which was presented to the joint shadow CCG. All of these taking place before the bill had passed, and while Baroness Cumberlege was debating on the bill. 


Even if her company hasn't received money for this yet, she has put her organisation in a position to do so. 

The Baroness and Cumberlege Connections made the headlines only two years ago, when, in 2009, the peer was accused of misusing parliamentary facilities to promote her own business, admitting that she had failed to declare her interest properly during House of Lords’ debates. In addition, the Baroness faced other charges of using her Lords email address to recruit people to commercial courses her firm was organising. Cumberlege was forced to admit that the business was run from the House of Lords until "it took off". The complaint was made by lobbying transparency campaigners Spinwatch, who uncovered the case and made the complaint.

At the time, the Guardian reported Spinwatch's spokesman, David Miller, as saying: "No peer should be treating parliament as an office from which to do commercial business…" The Baroness however maintained that her company is not a lobbying company.

Despite being found guilty of breaking the rules with regard to declaring her outside interests, Cumberlege did not face any disciplinary action.

Her company is not only connected to parliament, but it utilises a plethora of other peers in its work. Aside from Baroness Cumberlege, there are five other peers who have offered their services to her company, either as a trainer or a consultant. Baroness Billingham, Lord Grocott, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, Baroness Jay, and Lord Harris of Haringey. Indeed Lord Harris, who works as an occasional trainer, is also a senior advisor to KPMG, the lead body in one of the other partnerships vying for contracts to develop the new CCGs.

In addition to the Lords, Labour MP Rosie Cooper received payment of £300 for a focus group meeting with health professionals on ‘understanding MPs.’ David Lammy (also Labour) has received multiple payments throughout 2011 for participating in, amongst other programmes, the ‘Westminster experience’ conference. Stuart Gisela received two payments in 2011 for appearing in workshops, and Frank Dobson was paid £600 for a 4 hour presentation.

However, it was not just the Peer’s ability to vote when such conflict of interest is clear, but that she was able to influence the debate by speaking. No wonder then she should say: ‘I applaud the flexibility of the bill’, and it would appear the flexibility of the rules too. 


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For more on her former employer and fellow peer Lord Chadlington’s PR and lobbying firm Huntsworth plc. For more on Lord Chadlington, Huntsworth plc and their power of influence see here.



Note: In addition, Cumberlege Connections was listed under another partnership led by KPMG, until October 2011, where it appears she switched to the PwC Alliance. On asking whether she was part of both alliances; John Lewin a project manager of the NHS Leadership Acadamy confirmed to me ‘Cumberlege Connections are part of the PwC Alliance.’

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